Erdogan discusses migrant crisis, Syria with Macron, Merkel and Johnson

There was also discussion of Libya during the one-hour conference call.
Wednesday 18/03/2020
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, flanked by his ministers and advisors participates in a teleconference with European leaders, in Istanbul, Tuesday, March 17. (AP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, flanked by his ministers and advisors participates in a teleconference with European leaders, in Istanbul, Tuesday, March 17. (AP)

ISTANBUL - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday discussed the migrant
crisis and the situation in Syria’s rebel enclave of Idlib, with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain.

The four-party video conference that involved French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came after Turkey decided last month to re-open its border for refugees in a move aimed at pressuring Europe into siding with it in its showdown with Russian-backed Syrian troops over Idlib and increasing its aid package to Ankara.

The Turkish move sparked tensions with Brussels, and with neighbouring Greece, when thousands of migrants massed on the Turkish-Greek border. Some of the European leaders denounced it as "blackmail."

“Humanitarian assistance for Idlib, and the refugee issue” were on the agenda according to the Turkish presidency, along with other issues such as fighting in Libya.

Ankara is sending mercenaries from Syria to Libya as well as military equipment in support of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez Sarraj. Erdogan's policy in Libya is resented by many European nations, especially France.

Erdogan’s decision to open the gates for refugees heading to Europe came after more than 50 Turkish troops were killed by Syrian regime fire in northwestern province of Idlib in February.

Turkey is home to four million refugees — mostly Syrians — and is demanding more assistance from the European Union amid fears of another influx from Idlib, where the Syrian regime has launched an offensive backed by Russian air power.

Ankara hopes for progress on a new migrant deal with Brussels by the next scheduled EU summit on March 26.

Macron’s office said there was convergence of views on need to step up humanitarian aid to civilians in Idlib, during the conference call that lasted about an hour.

But on the migrant issue, NATO and EU relations, “a number of clarifications have been requested by Europeans from Erdogan in order to achieve clearer and peaceful relations,” the Elysee said.

Because of the growing spread of COVID-19, the meeting was held via video conference rather than in person in Istanbul.

The four leaders also discussed joint action against the coronavirus, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted.

Turkey recorded its first coronavirus-related death late on Tuesday and reported 98 cases.

(With AFP)