BRUSSELS • European Union ambassadors voiced outrage at a meeting this week over what they saw as an attempt by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to "blackmail" the bloc by allowing migrants to mass at Greece's border, diplomatic sources said.
Some envoys conceded, however, that Mr Erdogan has the EU in a bind because its member states cannot agree on how to deal with refugees. To avoid a replay of the 2015-2016 migration crisis, they believe the bloc will have to cough up more money for Turkey to go on keeping a lid on arrivals in Europe.
"The EU is the target of blackmail," a diplomat said at Monday's closed-door meeting in Brussels, details of which were relayed to Reuters by several sources.
The EU has struggled to respond as thousands of migrants have arrived at Greece's border from Turkey in recent days. The bloc's ties with Ankara are already strained over security and human rights, as well as Turkish hydrocarbon drilling off Cyprus.
In 2015-2016, the chaotic arrival of more than a million people from the Middle East stretched the bloc's security and welfare systems as well as fuelled political support for far-right groups.
The EU sealed a deal with Turkey in 2016, under which Ankara stopped people on its soil from heading to Europe. In exchange, the bloc offered €6 billion (S$9 billion) in aid for the more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees that Turkey is hosting.
But Mr Erdogan has long complained that the money is slow in coming and channelled through aid groups, not Turkey's budget.
After Russian-backed Syrian government forces killed Turkish soldiers in an air strike in Syria last week, Ankara signalled it would walk away from its pact with the EU altogether.
"You sleep with the devil, you wake up in hell - that is where we are now," one ambassador said during the meeting.
Compounding the EU's dilemma are internal divisions over how to distribute the burden of caring for refugees and migrants arriving in the 27-nation bloc.
One senior diplomat said the EU had squandered the time since the 2016 deal, brushing the problem under the carpet by paying for refugees and migrants to be kept in Turkey.
You sleep with the devil, you wake up in hell - that is where we are now.
AN AMBASSADOR FROM THE E.U.
Representatives of the Netherlands, Italy, France and Germany were among those who proposed giving more funds to help refugees in Turkey in the hope of appeasing Mr Erdogan.
At the same time, "as much as it is logical for the EU to continue supporting Syrian refugees in Turkey, it is important not to create the impression of giving in to blackmail", one of the diplomats reportedly said.
Yesterday, Mr Erdogan said European countries must support Turkey's "solutions" in Syria if they want to resolve the migration crisis.
"If European countries want to resolve the issue, they must support Turkey's efforts for political and humanitarian solutions in Syria," Mr Erdogan said in a televised speech in Ankara. "All European countries closing their borders to refugees today, trying to push them back by hitting them and sinking their boats, in fact, even shooting at them, are trampling over the universal declaration of human rights."
During a visit on Tuesday to a Turkish-Greek border crossing that thousands of migrants have been trying to breach, EU officials promised more cash to Greece to deal with the crisis.
Greek riot police have used tear gas against the migrants at its Kastanies border post, while the coast guard has tried to stop boats transporting migrants to Greece's Aegean islands.
"The situation at our border is not only an issue for Greece to manage, it is the responsibility of Europe as a whole," the head of the EU's executive commission, Ms Ursula von der Leyen, told a news conference at Kastanies. She also announced additional aid of €700 million to help Greece deal with the migrant crisis.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE