The Turkish government has announced it will be closing its borders to the EU once again | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo
The Turkish government has announced it will be closing its borders to the EU once again | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo

On March 18, the Turkish government announced that it would be closing its borders with EU countries Greece and Bulgaria. The reason: The Covid-19 pandemic. The announcement came a day after talks between some EU leaders and the Turkish president, where more help was promised for Turkey to support migrants and refugees.

Three weeks ago the Turkish government announced it was opening its borders with the EU. Now, after regular clashes on the border between migrants hoping to cross into Greece and the Greek border authorities, Turkey has announced that it will be closing its borders once again.

The measure came into effect at midnight on March 18. The reason for the decision was to help strengthen measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the Turkish news agency DHA quoted government sources as saying. 

The announcement came just a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a video conference with Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan in a bid to reinstate the EU-Turkey deal that includes a provision on Turkey keeping its borders closed to irregular migrants who want to cross into the EU. 

Germany and France declared themselves ready to increase the financial aid package to Turkey in order to help with the provisions for Syrian refugees on its territory.  According to the news agency AFP Turkey currently hosts some four million refugees and migrants. The vast majority of them are from Syria.

The deal signed in 2016

The EU-Turkey deal was first agreed in 2016. Turkey was promised €3 billion to help provide for the three million mostly Syrian refugees that it was hosting at the time. The EU also promised easing visa restrictions for Turkish citizens within the EU and modernizing the customs agreement between the bloc and Turkey.

More money was promised as the deal went on. By 2019, Turkey claimed that the EU had not paid all the money it had promised and said it was hosting more migrants and refugees than ever.

As well as helping Turkey look after the migrants and refugees on its territory, the deal was designed to help ease the pressure on neighboring EU states like Greece which, facing a financial crisis of its own, was unable to deal with the numbers of people traveling through its territory in order to get to northern EU countries like Germany.

The latest border closure announced by Turkey, however, cannot be seen as a move by Turkey towards reinstating the EU-Turkey deal: A senior Turkish official speaking on condition of anonymity with the news agency Associated Press, (AP) was reported as saying the border closure "did not amount to an end of Ankara's policy of not preventing migrants from leaving Turkey." 

Situation on the border

After several weeks of clashes between migrants and Greek border police, the situation calmed down last week.

On Monday, the online newspaper EU Observer reported that the number of people trying to cross the Turkish-Greek borders in the last few days had already dramatically decreased. A Greek Foreign Ministry spokesperson told the EU Observer : "The last few days the situation at the border was stable. We had very few attempts from migrants to enter."

Two days later on March 18, however, around 500 migrants attempted to cross the border and were pushed back by Greek border authorities who fired tear gas, the news agency AP reports. Greek authorities reportedly said that Turkish border authorities were also firing tear gas, AP writes. The clashes started at around 2 am and lasted around two hours.

With material from AP

 

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