The European Commission announced on March 4 a proposed action plan that it would put the same day to a special meeting of EU interior ministers, involving steps to be taken by the bloc and its member states “to provide critical support to Greece in managing the extraordinary situation at the external borders”.
The announcement followed visits by EU leaders to the Greek-Turkish and Bulgarian-Turkish borders on March 3.
“Urgent action is needed to address the immediate challenges faced by Greece at both its land and sea borders with Turkey, and to monitor developments in Bulgaria and Cyprus,” the European Commission said.
“At the same time, structural and sustainable solutions are needed for the EU as a whole. To this end, the Commission intends to soon present proposals for a New Pact on Migration and Asylum.”
The actions proposed to support Greece include:
- Member States to provide the assets needed for the launch of two rapid border intervention operations by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) at the land and sea borders between Greece and Turkey.
- Frontex to coordinate a new return programme for the quick return of persons without the right to stay to countries of origin from Greece.
- Financial assistance of up to 700 million euro to be provided to Greece. A total of 350 million euro is immediately available to support border and migration management, in particular to support increased reception capacity, voluntary returns and the infrastructure needed to carry out screening procedures for health and security. The Commission will propose an amending budget to make available a further 350 million euro.
- Member States to respond to the Civil Protection Mechanism call triggered by Greece to provide medical equipment, shelters, tents, blankets, and other necessary supplies.
- Member States to respond to the call by the European Asylum Support Office to provide 160 experts to be deployed in Greece.
“In addition, it is important to further strengthen regional and operational cooperation with our partners,” the European Commission said.
It said that the EU should further develop a co-ordination mechanism with the Western Balkans countries. Status Agreements to be concluded and fully implemented between the Western Balkans and Frontex.
“Moreover, resolute actions will be taken to step up the fight against smuggling.”
Separately, the EU announced on March 4 a sum of 170 million euro in humanitarian aid to continue assisting the most vulnerable people in Syria, including 60 million euro to address the humanitarian crisis in north-west Syria.
“The EU funding announced today will help Syrian population across the country with critical lifesaving assistance. The European Union urges all parties to the conflict to allow unimpeded humanitarian access to people most in need of assistance and to respect the rules and obligations of international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians,” the Commission said.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič concluded their two-day visit to Ankara on Wednesday, where they discussed with Turkish partners the situation in North-West Syria and refugee flows to and from Turkey, the statement said.
Borrell and Lenarčič held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vice-President Fuat Oktay.
Borrell also met Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Defence Hulusi Akar and Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu.
Lenarčič met Minister of Labour Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk, with President of the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) Mehmet Güllüoğlu, and with President of Turkish Red Crescent and Vice President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Kerem Kinik.
The statement said that Borrell and Lenarčič discussed with the Turkish officials the humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib, emphasising that the situation was critical “and there was an urgent need to act to stop the military confrontations which are causing extensive humanitarian suffering”.
Almost one million people have fled their homes due to heavy fighting in north-west Syria. They are facing freezing temperatures with insufficient or no shelter. Civilians and civilian infrastructure such as schools, and hospitals are directly targeted by armed forces. Humanitarian access is urgently needed.
Borrell declared readiness of the EU to consider working with Turkey on an approach that would offer a joint political way forward: “We have a common interest and that is to end the conflict in Syria.
“Only in this way will we be able to bring to an end the suffering of the civilian population and contribute to address the most significant challenges Turkey is currently facing. Increased pressure at EU-Turkey border and unilateral actions will not provide answers,” Borrell said.
(Photo of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: EC Audiovisual Service)