EU officials mull increased funding for Turkish migrant pact

(Updated with Greek prime minister's comments in ninth and 10th paragraphs.)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Friday the European Union had shown it was willing to work more closely with Turkey on migration, but must keep its word on a migrant pact, Turkish media reported.

Senior EU officials travelled to Turkey on Thursday in an effort to save a 2016 deal to limit the flow of migrants from Turkey to Europe. The officials raised the prospect of providing further funding for Turkey, which has borne the economic brunt of large waves of refugees passing through the country in recent years.

Çavuşoğlu said he had clearly stated Turkey’s expectations of the EU in what he called a productive meeting.

The 2016 deal reduced a large wave of migration to Europe that started in 2015 as Turkey took measures to reduce crossings and accepted the return of migrants from Greece.

But this year has seen a new spike in refugees making the crossing as Syrian government forces have attacked the last rebel-held province of Idlib. There has also a rise in the number of migrants from Afghanistan.

The EU officials visited Turkey on the week a fire swept through an overcrowded refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. Athens vowed to send 10,000 migrants back to Turkey after the blaze.

"Irregular arrivals to Greece increased over the past weeks and months," German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle quoted EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos as saying after Thursday’s meeting. "There is an urgent need to further strengthen the prevention and detection of irregular departures from Turkey."

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million registered Syrian migrants, was under enormous migratory pressure. Several migratory routes to Europe converge in Turkey, which is also home to a large number of unregistered migrants.

But speaking on Friday, Greek Prime Minister Nikos Mitsotakis called on Turkey to take action to prevent Aegean crossings.

“It has the ability to control the flows in the Aegean. It cannot give the impression that it is exploiting this issue for its own geopolitical pursuits,” Reuters quoted Mitsotakis as saying.

This year discontent has risen in Turkey over the large number of Syrians in the country, which faced a currency crisis and short recession in 2018.

The 2016 deal promised Turkey 6 billion euros of funding to help house refugees, 5.8 billion euros of which the EU says has been handed over.

However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has complained that Turkey has not received enough funding to deal with the refugee crisis, which he says has cost the country nearly 37 billion euros.

"And that is why we must look at how this pact between the European Union and Turkey can be strengthened," Seehofer said after his meeting Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu.

The German minister said further financial support for Turkey was on the table, DW reported.