EU calls for no-fly zone over northeastern Syria amid refugee dispute with Turkey

Foreign ministers from the European Union (EU) held an informal meeting on Thursday in Zagreb, Croatia to discuss recent developments on the European and international agenda, including the situation on the Turkish-Greek border and the embattled Syrian province of Idlib.

The meeting was hosted by Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman and chaired by EU foreign policy Chief Josep Borrell. 

During the meeting, Borrell expressed cautious support for Ankara’s request to establish a no-fly zone in north-west Syria. 

“For me as High Representative of the EU it is for sure a good initiative,” Borrell said. “Some member states have been proposing it; I agree that it should be supported.”

Ankara has floated the idea of a no-fly zone, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a security zone to protect civilians. 

However, Borrell noted, it would be up to organizations like NATO or the UN to establish a no-fly zone.

Despite this, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told French news agency AFP that NATO was not yet considering such a measure, saying the “only way to address the situation on the border is by working together.”

Some 13,000 refugees have gathered at Turkey’s border with Greece amid a deteriorating humanitarian and security situation. On Wednesday, EU interior ministers accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of trying to “use” refugees to strong-arm Europe into supporting its military intervention in northeastern Syria.

On Wednesday, Borrell and Stoltenberg had warned Erdogan that he was still beholden to a 2016 refugee deal with the EU, and urged to return to honoring his obligations.

‘United European answer’

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement before heading to the meeting that it was important for Greece not be left alone and that a “united European answer” is found for the Turkish-Greek border situation.

“As always, the weakest always pay the highest price for the current condition. Therefore, we must use our possibilities to quickly help especially unprotected children,” Maas said. “For us it’s clear: the EU must provide continued and increased financial support or Turkey’s efforts accommodating refugees and migrants.” 

“That’s because Turkey is the world’s largest host country for refugees, and a fair division of burdens is in our interest, too. But it’s equally clear that we expect Turkey, for its part, to keep to the terms of the EU-Turkey agreement [on this issue],” Maas said.

Earlier this week, the EU had already announced an increase in humanitarian aidfor Syrians fleeing Idlib as a Moscow-backed Syrian government offensive has targeted rebel forces and the Turkish soldiers who are helping them.

Read more: ‘We have no other choice’: Afghans stranded at Greece’s gates

mvb,es/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)

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