Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed Afghanistan as concern mounts over a new migration wave to Europe.
The European Union must assist Afghans in Afghanistan and in neighboring countries, particularly Iran, otherwise a migration wave will be “inevitable,” Erdogan told the Greek leader in a phone call on August 20.
Erdogan said that if stability isn’t brought to Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover last weekend, already high migration pressures will increase and this situation will pose “a serious challenge for everyone,” according to his office.
Afghanistan’s neighbors should be supported so that Afghans “stay as close to their homes as possible,” Mitsotakis said according to his office.
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, a deteriorating economy, and a long-running humanitarian crisis has raised concern in Europe of a repeat of the 2015 migration crisis, when more than 1 million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere crossed to Greece from Turkey before travelling north to wealthier states.
Turkey hosts nearly 4 million Syrian refugees and 300,000 Afghans, in addition to migrants and refugees from other parts of the world.
Greece became a front-line state during the European migration crisis, although arrivals from Turkey have dropped since 2016 when the EU reached a deal with Ankara to stem the flow in exchange for billions of dollars of financial support and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the bloc.
Erdogan often complains the EU hasn’t fully lived up to its end of the agreement, and on occasion has used the threat of opening Turkey's borders to Europe to apply political pressure on Brussels.
"Turkey has no mission, responsibility, or obligation to be Europe's refugee warehouse," Erdogan said in televised remarks late on August 19.
"We need to remind our European friends of this fact: Europe cannot stay out of this problem by harshly closing its borders to protect the safety and well-being of its own citizens," Erdogan said.
In other comments, Erdogan said Turkey is in touch with officials in Iran about migration and was prepared to engage with the Taliban, saying the group's control of the country is "a fact."
Earlier, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said he doesn’t expect a large number of refugees from Afghanistan to arrive in Europe, as long as those fleeing the country are provided with aid.
He told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera on August 20 that Afghanistan's neighbors are most likely to see an influx of refugees, particularly Pakistan, Iran and, to a lesser extent, Tajikistan.
A greater "risk" to the European Union was likely only if refugees are not promptly provided with aid and decide to attempt the journey to Europe, he added.
According to the UN, more than 5 million Afghans have already been displaced outside the country since the 1979 Soviet invasion and subsequent waves of violence. Ninety percent of them live in Iran or Pakistan.
Turkey and Greece have recently hardened their borders. Turkey is erecting walls and ditches along the border with Iran as well as electronic monitoring systems amid concern about Afghan refugees.
Greece said on August 20 it had completed a 40 kilometer fence on its border with Turkey and a new surveillance system to stop possible asylum seekers.
Turkish, Greek Leaders Say They Won't Accept Afghan Migrant Wave