Turkey, Greece Tell EU They Will Not Take Responsibility for Afghan Refugees

Turkey and Greece told European Union countries that they will not take responsibility for Afghan refugees as they both look to deter influxes of migrants into their borders, the Associated Press reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that Turkey would not become a "refugee warehouse" for fleeing Afghans and asked European countries to provide refuge for them. Meanwhile, Greece is looking to prevent a recurrence of the events in 2015, when hundreds of thousands of migrants traveled from the Turkish coast through Greece and the Balkans while heading for more affluent parts of the EU, AP reported.

On Wednesday, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said that the country was working on evacuating EU citizens and Afghans who worked with the EU, but Greece "does not accept to be the gateway for irregular flows into the EU." While speaking on Skai TV, Mitarachi directed refugees to seek aid in Turkey and other countries to the east of Greece "who could provide initial protection where necessary."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Afghans Seek Refuge in Turkey
The latest chaos in Afghanistan sparked by the recent gains in territory by the Taliban, including the takeover of the capital Kabul, has raised fresh alarm over an influx of migrants into Turkey through the Iranian border. Above, Afghan migrants rest while they wait for transport by smugglers after crossing the Iran-Turkey border on August 15, 2021, in Tatvan, on the western shores of Lake Van, eastern Turkey. Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images

Greece's prime minister and Turkey's president are to speak on Friday evening to discuss "the latest developments in Afghanistan," the Greek prime minister's office announced, as both countries raise concerns about a potential major influx of people fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban's takeover.

Greece's prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, would be speaking with Erdogan at 7:30 p.m. local time (1630 GMT), Mitsotakis' office said.

Greece's defense and citizens' protection ministers, as well as the chief of the National Defense General Staff, were to visit the Evros border region on Friday.

Greek authorities have constructed a new steel wall to block commonly used crossing points along the Evros River that forms much of the land border between Greece and Turkey. Plans to build the roughly 26-kilometer-long wall were finalized in October 2020.

In neighboring Turkey, anti-migrant sentiment has been running high as it grapples with economic woes, including high unemployment, that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and there is little appetite in the country to take in more people.

"We need to remind our European friends of this fact: Europe—which has become the center of attraction for millions of people—cannot stay out of [the refugee] problem by harshly sealing its borders to protect the safety and wellbeing of its citizens," Erdogan said.

"Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe's refugee warehouse," Erdogan said.

Erdogan said his country is home to 5 million foreign nationals—including 3.6 million Syrians who fled the civil war in the neighboring country and 300,000 Afghans. Around 1.1 million are foreigners with residence permits, he said.

In 2016, Turkey and the European Union signed a deal for Turkey to stop the hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees heading toward Europe, in return for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and substantial EU financial support.

Erdogan has frequently accused the EU of not keeping its side of the bargain, while the deal led to thousands of asylum-seekers languishing in squalid refugee camps on the eastern Greek islands.

The migration issue has also led to flare-ups in tension between Greece and Turkey, neighbors and NATO allies who have come to the brink of war several times since the mid-1970s. In March 2020, Turkey announced its borders into the EU were open, and encouraged thousands of migrants to head to the Greek border, triggering chaotic scenes as Greece shut its border crossings with Turkey.

Afghan Migrants Protest in Greece
Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said Wednesday that the country was working on evacuating EU citizens and Afghans who worked with the EU, but Greece “does not accept to be the gateway for irregular flows into the EU.” Above, Afghan migrants protest over Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, on the island of Lesbos, on August 16, 2021. Manolis Lagoutaris/AFP via Getty Images