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News Analysis: Greece's refugee decision to strain ties between EU and Turkey: expert



Greece's latest decision on sending illegal immigrants back to Turkey bears the potential to further strain the already tense ties between the European Union and Turkey, said a Turkish expert on migration.

"Turkey will certainly oppose this plan," Didem Isci, an analyst for the Ankara-based Bosphorus Migration Studies, told Xinhua on Tuesday. "Ankara has no tolerance left about the refugee issue."

Greece has announced that it is planning to send 200 asylum seekers back to Turkey each week when the construction of refugee camps on several islands on the Aegean Sea are completed.

The camps, which would reportedly be ready by the summer, would have the capacity to host up to 20,000 migrants for three months at a time.

The Greek declaration coincided with a time of new flow of migration towards Turkey's southeastern border, Isci said, noting that the number of refugees fleeing from the bombardments of the Syrian forces in the northwestern region of Idlib is now approaching 1 million.

Additionally, Turkey has been hosting over 3.6 million Syrian refugees in its territories since the Syrian issue started in 2011, costing more than 40 billion U.S. dollars.

"Ankara has already made it clear that it could no more carry the responsibility alone, asking more support from the EU countries," Isci said, noting that under these circumstances, Greece's new move would certainly put Turkey in a more difficult position.

"At first, 200 migrants for a week would not seem much, but when the time passes, Turkey would realize that the number would mean something," the expert noted, adding that this would also force Ankara to take stronger refugee policies.

"The matter has been continuing to be a very challenging issue for the government in domestic politics as well," Isci said. "Both the Turkish people and the opposition parties have been increasingly raising their voices against the growing number of refugees."

Turkey agreed to help curb the flow of illegal immigrants to Europe under a deal signed with the EU in March 2016, in return for a total of 6 billion euros in financial aid for the Syrian refugees.

The issue has also been causing strains in ties between the bloc and Turkey, as Ankara has been urging the European countries to increase the funding.

Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the EU had promised 6 billion euros of support, but not even 3 billion euros were given to international NGOs.

Meanwhile, despite precautions, increasing numbers of illegal immigrants have been trying to cross the Aegean Sea and reach Europe via Turkey.

During the last two days, the Turkish coast guard has captured at least 74 illegal immigrants on the Aegean Sea on their way to a Greek island.

Patrolling in the Aegean, an aircraft belonging to the coast guard noticed a group of migrants on the sea near the northwestern province of Balikesir, the force said at a statement posted on its website.

The teams intercepted their boat and apprehended 44 migrants, including 34 Afghan nationals, it added.

In another incident near the western province of Izmir, the coast guard captured 30 illegal immigrants on an inflatable boat, trying to reach a Greek island.

This year, 4,754 illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Greece via Turkey, according to the latest figures released by the Turkish coast guard. The force's data put the total figure of illegal immigrants caught by Turkey for the last year at 60,544.


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