By Ayhan Simsek
BERLIN (AA) - Greece on Wednesday called for additional EU financial assistance to Turkey for Syrian refugees in the country.
Giorgos Koumoutsakos, Greece’s alternate minister for migration policy, told German media that despite various criticisms, 2016 EU-Turkey refugee agreement remains the only available instrument to address the refugee crisis.
"We must acknowledge that Turkey has been shouldering an enormous burden by hosting nearly four million refugees and migrants. And I believe that the EU should consider additional support for Turkey," he told German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung.
Koumoutsakos also underlined that Greece expected more support from its EU partners, as the majority of irregular migrants coming to Europe were first arriving in Greece through the eastern Mediterranean route.
His remarks came ahead of German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer’s visit to Ankara on Thursday to discuss ways to improve the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement.
The conservative politician, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, will be accompanied by French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner and EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos.
Seehofer, Castaner and Avramopoulos are scheduled to visit Athens on Friday.
Germany championed the EU-Turkey refugee agreement in 2016 with the hope of stopping the refugee influx, after nearly a million refugees had arrived in the country.
The agreement has been successful in significantly reducing the number of crossings in the Aegean Sea, and preventing the loss of many lives. But the EU’s bureaucratic hurdles and delays to mobilize promised funds led to sharp criticism by Turkish politicians.
The EU had pledged €6 billion ($6.6 billion) aid to improve living conditions of Syrian refugees in Turkey. But only €2.22 billion ($2.43 billion) were disbursed by June 2019.
The EU member states also pledged that for every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU as part of a resettlement plan.
But the pace of returns to Turkey from the Greek islands under the agreement has been slow largely due to lengthy legal processes and administrative problems in Greece.
The EU member states only accepted around 20,000 Syrian refugees from Turkey since 2016.
Turkey currently hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world. Ankara has so far spent $40 billion for the refugees, according to official figures.