Feb 05 2019

On eve of Turkey visit, Greek leader urges EU to boost refugee support  

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called on the European Union on Monday to do all it can to support Turkey and Greece on the refugee issue, Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency said.

“Turkey has taken over the great burden of hosting 4 million refugees. That should always be recognised by the international community and the EU should do all it can to support our neighbour,” Alexis Tsipras said in an interview just before a two-day visit to Turkey.

A Turkey-EU refugee deal reached in March 2016 has effectively discouraged migration to Europe across the Aegean Sea from Turkey. “Illegal flows and especially deaths in the Aegean, drastically decreased," Tsipras said.

Tsipras hopes Turkey and Greece can intensify refugee cooperation, and that the EU is able to provide greater assistance.  

“The Greek islands have been overburdened in the last few years,” he said. "The EU, for its part, has to find a way to strengthen the support it shows to countries that are the most affected from the flow.”

Tsipras is due in Ankara on Tuesday for talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The two leaders are expected to discuss the Cyprus issue and disputed territorial waters in the Aegean.

On Cyprus, Tsipras said that, despite upcoming elections in both Greece and Turkey, the two countries should keep working for "a fair and viable solution based on UN Security Council decisions".

"The reunification of the island on this basis, is the only possible solution," Tsipras said.

The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops seized the northern third of the island following a Greek Cypriot aiming to unite Cyprus with Greece.

Tsipras hopes for historic steps in bilateral relations between the two neighbours. Of his personal relationship with the Turkish president, the Greek leader said it was based on respect, honesty and directness, although he said it had been challenging at times.

"During my visit I believe we will have the chance to continue the difficult, but frank dialogue we started in December 2017 and to pick up our positive agenda from where we left it," he added, recalling the Turkish president's visit to Athens, the first by a Turkish president in 65 years.