The European Union will allocate an additional 170 million euros ($189 million) in aid for the most vulnerable groups in war-torn Syria, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday.
“We have announced €170 million additionally in humanitarian aid to continue assisting the most vulnerable people in Syria,” Borrell told a press conference before departing from Ankara Esenboga Airport following a two-day visit to Turkey.
He noted that 60 million euros ($66.8 million) of the aid would be used to address the humanitarian crisis in northwestern Syria.
Earlier in day, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay received Borrell and an accompanying delegation to discuss recent developments in Syria, including the humanitarian crisis in Idlib province and the situation of refugees waiting on the Turkish-Greek border.
Borrell said he had many meetings with Turkish authorities during his visit, noting his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also a fruitful one.
“In our meetings, I had the opportunity to express our understanding of the difficult situation Turkey is currently facing but also stress that current developments on European borders are not leading to any solution,” Borrell said, adding the situation is not benefitting anyone and may get worse.
“The ones who will pay the price are the people — the Syrian refugees and the migrants,” he said.
Humanitarian consequences grave
Borrell said during the meetings, he noted that an end to the conflict in Syria would benefit both Turkey and the EU.
“We need to work hand in hand to address the common challenges,” he said, urging cooperation to find a way to end the crisis.
“The situation is dramatic. The humanitarian consequences of military escalation are extremely grave,” Borrell stressed.
He said they discussed reducing tensions and not encouraging further movement of refugees towards EU borders while noting that contacts at the highest level will continue and he will also discuss cooperation with Turkey during his meetings with EU foreign ministers in Zagreb, Croatia.
He noted that during their talks, Erdogan told him that Turkey does not encourage refugees to head to the borders, “but we cannot prevent people from doing so.”
“But we have to try to avoid by all means [a situation where] people believe the doors are open,” he said, adding they should not be misled because taking risky journeys to other countries may bring many other problems along with it.
Thousands of refugees flocked to Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing to Greece after Turkish officials announced last week that they would no longer try to stop refugees from reaching Europe.
It followed an attack last week by Syrian regime forces on Turkish troops in Idlib in which at least 34 soldiers were martyred.
On Sunday, Turkey announced a new offensive, Operation Spring Shield, in northwestern Syria to protect civilians from regime attacks.
Turkey already hosts some 3.7 million refugees from Syria alone, more than any other country in the world.
2016 Turkey-EU deal
Touching on a 2016 deal between Turkey and the EU which was aimed at stopping irregular migration through the Aegean Sea and improving the conditions of more than 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Borrell said “the 2016 package was not only a matter of providing financial help to take care of the migrants on Turkish soil.”
He said it also included other issues such as visa liberalization and modernization of the customs union and noted that most of them are yet to be fulfilled.
He said under the deal, the EU pledged 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in funding to support projects for Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Turkish politicians have recently criticized EU member states for not fully implementing the deal and for backing away from their political commitments.
Borrell said 4.7 billion euros have been contracted while 3.2 billion euros have been disbursed, adding the remainder will be paid this year.
He noted that the current situation requires their support and cooperation as the situation in northwestern Idlib, Syria was not foreseen in 2016.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million others displaced, according to UN officials.