Coronavirus Forces Turkish, European Leaders to Conference from Home

  • Before the coronavirus outbreak, the leaders of the four countries were to discuss the issue of Idlib and Syrian refugees in Turkey.
  • Erdogan called on European countries not to be indifferent to the "Syrian war and human tragedy."
  • "The European Union is not in a position to handle asylum applications fairly and respectfully in the Greek islands."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s four-day summit with European leaders was scheduled to take place in Istanbul, but was cancelled due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Instead, the meeting was held by video conferencing. Heads of state and government discussed ways to send humanitarian aid to Idlib, in northern Syria, and the issue of Syrian refugees.

Idlib Governorate is one of the 14 governorates (provinces) of Syria. In 2011, the Governorate was taken over by rebel militias, who have controlled it since then.

“We found an opportunity to extensively evaluate many topics ranging from fight against coronavirus and the humanitarian situation in Idlib, to solutions to Syria crisis, matter of asylum seekers and Turkey-EU relations at the summit,” Erdogan said on Twitter. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu added a similar tweet as to what Erdogan and the leaders of France, Germany and the UK discussed during the video conference.

Turkish media reported that the main focus of the four-nation talks at the video conference on Tuesday was the Syrian refugee crisis. EU officials are also trying to solve the problem of asylum seekers on the Greek and Turkish borders.

The Fate of the EU-Turkey Asylum Agreement

Turkey hosts more than three and a half million Syrian refugees and has sought help from Europe. According to an agreement signed between the country and the European Union, the EU was to contribute €6 billion to Turkey. Gerald Knaus, one of the architects of the Turkey-EU agreement, has warned that the asylum-seekers’ problems will not be resolved by endangering the existing agreement between Turkey and the EU.

In Turkey, the population of Syrian refugees is estimated to be around 3.0 million, with many more who are unregistered, of whom 260,000 live in the 22 camps, as of May 2017. The camps, also known as Temporary Accommodation Centers or Temporary Protection Centers (TPCs), are run by the government-led Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) with the support of the United Nations and NGO partners.

“The European Union is not in a position to handle asylum applications fairly and respectfully in the Greek islands,” says Knaus. The asylum system is basically gone. At present, the chances of being returned to Turkey are almost zero. If the EU fails to solve these problems, Knaus says, the deal with Turkey will soon fail. Knaus emphasized that the number of asylum seekers drowned in the Aegean Sea has fallen sharply following the Turkey-Europe agreement.

“The European Union promised Turkey four years ago to contribute €6 billion,” he stressed. What was the result? Within 3 years, more than 5% of Syrian refugees remained in Turkey. Syrians now make up four percent of Turkey’s population. Their new generations have learned Turkish and been attracted to Turkish society. The European Union has supported Turkey for three years.

According to Knaus, the European agreement with Turkey has been in the interest of asylum seekers, Turkey, and the European Union. However, some experts have said that, especially after the asylum seekers crossed the Syrian border into Turkey’s border, Turkey will again negotiate an EU agreement.

Weeks of fighting in Idlib displaced some 150,000 refugees toward the Turkish border. Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, the presidents of Turkey and Russia, agreed on his appointment.

Afterward, Erdogan traveled to Brussels to seek the support of his NATO and EU allies. Erdogan called on European countries not to be indifferent to the “Syrian war and human tragedy.” The Turkish president in Brussels said his country could not bear the heavy burden of asylum without additional EU assistance.

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Joyce Davis

My history goes back to 2002 and I  worked as a reporter, interviewer, news editor, copy editor, managing editor, newsletter founder, almanac profiler, and news radio broadcaster.

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