Turkey's Erdogan mocks EU migrant efforts on eve of visit

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 05, 2015 6:33 AM

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appeared to mock European Union overtures for help with its migration crisis as he arrived for a long-awaited state visit to Brussels and a string of meetings with EU leaders set to start on Monday.

Erdogan, preparing for Nov. 1 parliamentary elections, boasted of Turkey's record in taking 2 million refugees from neighboring Syria and Iraq, and contrasted it with the numbers passing through the bloc, in speeches to supporters.

"Europe is uncomfortable with even the smallest refugee flow," he told a mass rally in Strasbourg, before flying on to Brussels late on Sunday and addressing another crowd from an open-top bus outside his hotel.

"What do they say to us? ... 'Oh my, don't open your doors, don't let them reach us. They should stay with you,'" Erdogan added in Strasbourg, according to Hurriyet newspaper.

The typically bullish speeches will concern European Union officials who are hoping to convince Erdogan to shelter more Syrian refugees in return for aid.

Erdogan's trip, officially a state visit to Belgium, has been repeatedly postponed amid tensions over Turkey's stalled bid to join the EU.

The bloc, long critical of what it sees as Erdogan's growing authoritarianism, is now looking to Turkey's most popular politician to help solve its worst migration crisis since the break-up of former Yugoslavia.

Diplomats say the focus is how to better manage the flows of migrants fleeing fighting and the brutality of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, which will be at the center of a major meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday of EU, Western Balkan and East Mediterranean countries.

The EU, which pledged at least 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) for Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other countries last month, says it wants to help Turkey absorb and integrate more migrants on its own soil and cooperate closely with Greece in preventing mass migrant flows.

A German newspaper on Sunday said that the European Commission, the EU executive, had already agreed a plan with Ankara to stem the flow of refugees to Europe by patrolling Turkey's frontier with Greece and setting up new camps.

But a senior EU official involved in negotiations with Turkey said the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung report, which detailed six new refugee camps for two million people, was "not in line with what we have been discussing".

(Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul and Paul Taylor in Athens)