EU to help Greece and Cyprus tackle migrant influx

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EU ministers unanimously approved a six-point plan to help Greece respond to migratory pressure on its borders with Turkey while expressing full solidarity with Cyprus and Bulgaria “which may be similarly affected”.

The declaration of support came after Wednesday’s extraordinary Council of Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs.

The 27 discussed “exclusively the problem created by the opening of the Turkish border and Erdogan government’s attempt to push immigrants to Greece,” the Cyprus Interior Ministry said in a statement.

It added: “Unanimously the Council Ministers expressed support and solidarity with Greece, which, in addition to defending its national borders, also fulfilled its role as guardian of the external borders of the European Union”.

Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris highlighted the “dramatic increase in migration flows to Cyprus that has been provoked by Turkey and channelled to the Republic through the occupied areas.”

He said the Summit resulted in a Joint Declaration which strongly condemns “Turkey’s exploitation of the immigrants for political gains.”

“When Europe is tested unity prevails,” Vice President Margaritis Schinas said.

Commissioner for Immigration Ylva Johansson said the Council appeared as a “family” and has turned from a field of controversy in the past, into a field of agreement.

Thousands of migrants have made for Greece since Ankara said on Feb. 28 that it would let migrants cross its borders into Europe, despite a commitment to hold them in its territory under a 2016 deal with the European Union.

Hundreds have made it into Greece, many by sea to Lesbos and other Greek islands.

Ankara and Athens are accusing each other of using excessive force at its shared borders, where migrants have clashed with security forces in recent days.

Greece announced on March 1 that it would not accept any new asylum applications for a month following the build-up of migrants at the border.

This has triggered criticism from human rights agencies.

Turkey accused Greek forces of shooting dead one migrant and wounding five others, a charge strongly denied by Greece, which said Turkish police were using tear gas to help the migrants illegally cross onto its territory.

Turkey’s change in policy came after 33 Turkish soldiers were killed by Russian-backed Syrian government forces in an airstrike in Syria.

Greece and the EU accuse Turkey of deliberately goading the migrants to cross the border as a way of pressuring Brussels into offering more money or supporting Ankara’s geopolitical aims in the Syrian conflict.

Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and faces another influx from an upsurge in fighting in northwest Syria, says it cannot take in anymore and complains that EU aid falls well short of what is needed for the refugees.