UPDATES WITH GREEK MINISTER’S MEETING WITH TURKISH DEPUTY FM
By Orhan Onur Gemici and Tevfik Durul
ANKARA (AA) – Turkey’s interior minister on Thursday hosted Greek migration minister to discuss migration crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey's Suleyman Soylu and Greece’s Giorgos Koumoutsakos -- alternate minister for migration policy -- discussed the migration policies between the two countries.
Koumoutsakos’s visit came after a sharp rise in the number of migrants arriving in Greece.
Soylu will also meet his German counterpart Horst Seehofer, French counterpart Christophe Castaner and EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos later in the day.
Following his talks with Soylu, Koumoutsakos met Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kiran at the Turkish Foreign Ministry building.
Koumoutsakos and Kiran discussed the Turkey-EU refugee deal and its importance on combating irregular migration.
Stressing that Turkey fulfills its obligations under the deal, Kiran said Turkey expects the EU to perform its own responsibilities.
Kiran also stressed the importance of the EU doing its part on the issues of visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, opening new negotiating chapters with Turkey and providing finance to accelerate the process.
Some 77,400 irregular migrants reached Europe by crossing Mediterranean this year, 45,600 of which arrived in Greece -- more than Spain, Italy, Malta, and the Greek Cypriot administration combined -- the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.
Some 315,000 irregular migrants -- aiming to illegally cross to Europe -- were held across Turkey in the first nine months of this year, Soylu said on Wednesday.
In 2016, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has championed the Turkey-EU refugee agreement with the hope of stopping the refugee influx, after nearly a million refugees had arrived in Germany.
The EU had pledged €6 billion ($6.6 billion) aid to improve living conditions of Syrian refugees in Turkey. But only €2.22 billion were disbursed by this June.
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.
* Writing and contribution by Busra Nur Bilgic Cakmak in Ankara