On Feb. 27, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his country would no longer prevent millions of refugees who fled Syria to Turkey after the start of the Syrian civil war from crossing into Europe.
The move came amid an escalation of the conflict between Turkey and Russia over the northwestern Syrian territory of Idlib, the site of fighting between Turkish and Russian-backed Syrian government forces. Both sides have reported casualties from attacks.
Immediately after Erdogan’s announcement, thousands of refugees flooded Turkish border crossings into Greece and Bulgaria. Both of those countries increased border security, and violence erupted between security forces and refugees.
On March 11, Erdogan went so far as to compare the actions of Greek security forces on the border with Turkey to those of the Nazis. Greece denounced the remarks.
Nine days earlier, on March 2, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov had tried to reduce the tensions and find a solution. He flew to Turkey and met with Erdogan, offering to host an emergency meeting with Turkey and Greece. Erdogan refused, claiming that the EU had broken promises of aid. Bulgaria is an EU member.
"The promised 6 billion euros -- they [Brussels] did not release,” Erdogan told journalists after meeting with Borisov. “Now they say they will allocate 1 billion euros. Who are you lying to?”
The statement is misleading.
Erdogan was referring to an agreement the EU countries made with Turkey four years ago to stop the refugee flow from Syria. The influx was causing a humanitarian crisis in Europe.
The EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey, which was established in 2015 to provide additional funding to help Syrian refugees in Turkey, pledged 6 billion euros between 2016 and 2019 and required Turkey to stop the migration. The estimated 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey were to remain there until they were repatriated or resettled.
Erdogan said Turkey kept its promises while the EU did not. But the EU funding was not promised as a direct payment to the Turkish government. Rather, it was to flow through international aid organizations and programs working directly with the refugees.
Funding for these programs is ongoing and will continue through mid-2025, the EU said.
The EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey states that half of the 6 billion euros comes directly from the EU budget while the rest comes from combined contributions by EU member countries.
According to the EU, 2.47 billion euros were paid as scheduled during 2016-2017, and 373 million euros were directed to specific aid and development programs.
The EU is behind on the 2019 schedule for the second tranche of aid and has moved the deadline to 2023. Of the promised 3 billion euros initially scheduled to be released last December, the EU disbursed 760 million.
Thus, the EU paid 3.2 billion euros as of December 2019. The remaining 2.8 billion euros, according to the EU, are currently in different stages of processing.
Erdogan’s comment comparing Greek security forces to the Nazis brought a sharp rebuke from the Greek government. According to The Washington Post, Erdogan told lawmakers from his ruling AK party the following:
“There is no difference with what the Nazis did and the images from the border with Greece. To open fire, fire tear gas and use boiling water on innocent people whose only aim is to save their lives and build a better future for their children is barbaric in the true meaning of the word.”
Reuters quoted a Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas in response, saying of Erdogan:
“He is constantly trying to torpedo the climate with such statements … We tell everyone that they shouldn’t attempt to get in through the window. There is a door. Whoever is entitled to protection should knock on that door and be entitled to protection based on international law.”
Human rights groups have criticized the Greek government for its treatment of refugees trying to enter Greece from Turkey.
“The inhumane measures which the Greek authorities are taking to prevent people from entering the country are an appalling betrayal of Greece’s human rights responsibilities and will put the lives of people fleeing violence at risk,” Amnesty International said in a statement released on March 2.
This fact check is partially based on a report originally published by the Bulgarian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, VOA’s sister news organization.