Austrian minister: Turkey uses migrants to pressure EU

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Austria’s minister for the European Union on Thursday accused Turkey of using migrant flows as a means to pressure the 27-member bloc for its own purposes and warned that the EU won’t be “blackmailed” by any country.

Karoline Edtstadler said countries on the EU’s external borders like Cyprus won’t be left alone to fend for themselves amid an influx of new migrants.

“Turkey, which uses migration and migrants as a tool to pressure the European Union, we will not accept that,” Edtstadler said after talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides. “We as a European Union won’t be blackmailed — not by Turkey, not by Belarus, not by any other country in the world.”

She urged collective EU action in what she termed as “mandatory solidarity” to deal with migrant inflows at their source — in countries from which people are fleeing and those that are used as transit points to reach the bloc.

But Edtstadler said relocating migrants to Austria from frontline EU countries is off the table for her country because it’s already dealing with a “big burden” after having hosted more than 120,000 asylum-seekers since 2015.

“The red line in Austria is relocation, because we accepted already a huge amount of asylum-seekers,” said Edtstadler. “And it is also a question of integration, where we face a lot of challenges still today.”

Christodoulides repeated that Cyprus has received the most first-time asylum applications relative to its population than any other EU member country for the fourth straight year. He said close to 80% of those asylum-seekers come from Turkey directly or through ethnically split Cyprus’ breakaway north.

Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot state in the north.

Cyprus has accused Turkey of deliberately channeling asylum-seekers to Cyprus. Christodoulides said it’s Ankara’s “deplorable” policy to “instrumentalize human lives” in order to “score political gains from the European Union.”

The Cypriot foreign minister suggested that the EU could cut off funding to Turkey for failing to live up to its obligations under a 2016 to stem the flow of migrants heading toward Europe, in return for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and substantial EU financial support.

Turkey, which already hosts the world’s largest refugee population, including 3.7 million Syrians, is concerned about a potential influx of refugees fleeing the Taliban.

“So as a European Union, we need to react and send a clear message to Turkey,” Christodoulides said.

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