Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Thursday that he is backing accession negotiations with Ankara for it to have full membership to the European Union, a process that has been stalling for 50 years now.
Speaking at a press briefing held after the meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Tsipras underscored that Turkey's accession to the EU should be supported, while expressing that, "Turkey's EU membership will both benefit the Turkish nation and be important to maintain regional stability."For her part, commenting on the refugee deal inked between the EU and Turkey, Merkel noted that the EU must push forward with its current refugee agreement with Turkey and problems should be solved with the cooperation of Greece.
She stressed the deal has been "successful" so far, but it was not implemented as they wanted, adding that returns of refugees from Greece to Turkey were not going as quickly as originally hoped.
Turkey and the EU signed an agreement in 2016 to solve Europe's most pressing problem, the influx of refugees to the EU. The agreement foresaw that in exchange for Turkey stemming the refugee flow to Europe, the EU would pay Turkey 6 billion euros in financial aid, accelerate Turkey's EU accession talks and grant visa-free travel for its citizens.
The arrangement also foresees that the EU will send all Syrians who reached the Greek islands illegally after March 20, 2016, back to Turkey. However, the number of returned Syrians has been low due to slow return procedures in Greece. As a result, Athens adopted using illegal means to send refugees, "pushing back" refugees along with mistreatment by Greek security forces ranging from beatings, to being forced to go back half-naked to the Turkish side of the border.
On Nov. 12, a group of migrants was discovered by villagers in Turkey's northwestern Edirne province in a disheveled and naked state, saying that they were beaten up and stripped of their clothes and belongings by the Greek police. The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) also supported the claims of systematic pushbacks, stressing it was deeply concerned by them.
On the other hand, Ankara has drastically reduced the flow of asylum seekers to Europe, which peaked in 2015 when more than 1 million arrived. According to the EU Commission, the number of refugees who came to Greece via Turkey fell by 97 percent compared to the period before the agreement.
Turkey, which currently hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees - the highest number of refugees in the world - has spent more than $32 billion from its own national resources for helping and sheltering refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.