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Europe Scrambles for Solutions to Counter Threats of New Migrant Crisis

Migrants hold their babies as they try to warm themselves next to a river in Edirne, Turkey, near Turkish-Greek border, March 4, 2020.

European Union interior ministers held emergency talks Wednesday on how to respond to asylum-seekers massing on Turkey’s borders, hoping to cross into their territory. That’s after Turkey retreated last week from a deal with the EU to keep them within its borders.

There’s no chance of a repeat of the migrant crisis five years ago that saw about 1 million people seeking asylum in Europe. At least not yet. Migrants now hoping to cross into Greece and Bulgaria from Turkey number in the thousands only. Most appear to be from Afghanistan and other countries, rather than the 3.6 million Syrian refugees Turkey now hosts.

The message sounding from European Union interior ministers at Wednesday’s meeting in Brussels was solidarity among members, and in more diplomatic wording, that the EU would not be blackmailed by Turkey.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said France wanted a complete and rightful application of a 2016 deal with Turkey that saw the EU agreeing to pay about $6.7 billion in aid to Ankara for keeping Syrian refugees within its borders.

The EU is pledging more than $780 million in assistance to Greece to deal with this new migrant issue, along with beefed-up border control. Visiting Greece’s border with Turkey Tuesday with other EU officials, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called Greece a shield for the rest of Europe.

“Turkey is not an enemy, and people are not just means to reach a goal. We would all do well to remember both in the days to come,” von der Leyen said.

Turkey says the Europeans have been slow to pay the aid, and the money is going to international agencies rather than to its government. This standoff is happening as Turkey has closed its own frontier to people fleeing escalating fighting in Syria’s Idlib region just across its border.

EU foreign ministers will discuss the migrant issue Thursday and Friday.

Meanwhile, critics fault the Europeans for essentially outsourcing their migrant problems to Turkey, but also to Africa. And despite the talk of unity, they say the EU is still sharply divided over migration.

Hanne Beirens, director of the Brussels-based Migration Policy Institute think tank, says EU members once considered the 2016 deal with Turkey a temporary measure.

“But nearly four years onward, we have not reached any EU agreement on how (unintelligible) … common European asylum system, or how we will share responsibility when it comes for newcomers who ask for asylum,” Beirens said.

So, it seems now an old crisis is coming back to haunt Europe.