Turkey urges EU action on Syria

  • 07/10/2015
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Reuters)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Reuters)

By Danny Kemp

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged the EU to consider a no-fly zone and safe haven area in Syria during talks to address Europe's spiralling migrant crisis.

Speaking after the discussions in Brussels on Monday (local time), Erdogan said Turkey was bearing the brunt of the crisis and pressed the bloc to act against "state-sponsored terrorism" in its war-torn neighbour.

The European Union, meanwhile, said Turkey must do more to stop the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees who have landed on its shores in the worst such crisis since World War II.

"It is indisputable that Europe has to manage its borders better. We expect Turkey to do the same," EU President Donald Tusk told reporters.

Turkey has become a key smuggling route for thousands of migrants seeking a better life in the EU; about 630,000 people have entered the bloc illegally this year, many of them fleeing conflict in Syria and Afghanistan.

Most are headed for the wealthier countries of northern Europe and Germany, which has welcomed the refugees, now predicts it could receive up to 1.5 million asylum seekers in 2015.

Thousands took to the streets of the eastern city of Dresden late on Monday, accusing Chancellor Angela Merkel of "crimes against the German people" and "treason".

"It won't stop with 1.5 or two million," said Lutz Bachmann, co-founder of the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement that organised the march.

"They will have their wives come, and one, two, three children. It is an impossible task to integrate these people," he told the protesters.

Speaking in Brussels during a trip that has been overshadowed by rising tensions with Russia over its air strikes in Syria, Erdogan urged the EU to do more to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The "root cause" of the refugee crisis was the "state-sponsored terrorism actually carried out by Assad himself", Erdogan said, citing three things that need to be done to end the crisis.

"One is to focus on training and equipment, the second one is to declare a safe zone that would be protected from terrorism, and the third is a no-fly zone," Erdogan said.

Western officials had previously cast doubt on the Turkish proposals for a no-fly "safe zone" in northern Syria where refugees could take shelter from the bloody conflict.

Brussels and Ankara also reportedly discussed a European Commission plan that would see Turkey join Greek coastguard patrols in the eastern Aegean, co-ordinated by EU border agency Frontex.

Any migrants picked up would be taken back to Turkey where six new camps for up to two million people would be built, co-financed by the EU.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has previously rejected an EU plan to set up "hotspots" on Turkish soil to register asylum seekers.

Europe has also been pressuring his government to do more to tackle the 30,000 people smugglers it estimates are operating in Turkey.

Highlighting the scourge, Italy's coastguard said more than 1800 migrants were rescued on Monday from six vessels found adrift in the Mediterranean, and the Red Crescent said the bodies of 85 migrants had been found washed ashore in Libya.

In Greece, police arrested an Afghan smuggler accused of keeping 34 migrants, including 12 minors, locked up in an Athens apartment.

Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri said 630,000 people had entered the bloc illegally this year and called for 775 extra border guards to be deployed at the EU's external borders.

The Czech Republic said it would send "about 25 soldiers" to neighbouring Hungary to help it protect the EU's external frontiers.