Refugees and migrants near the Turkish-Greek border. Photograph: Emrah Gürel/AP
EU leaders in Brussels held “frank” talks with president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday over his decision to open Turkey’s border to migrants travelling to Europe, as deteriorating conditions in Greek camps led to the bloc agreeing to rehouse up to 1,500 child refugees.
The presidents of the European commission and council, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, battled during the difficult meeting in Brussels to save the current migration deal with Turkey in the face of Erdoğan’s claims that the EU had not kept its side of the bargain.
About 35,000 migrants have massed at Turkey’s borders with the EU in the last week since Turkey’s president broke a 2016 pact under which Brussels promised to pay €6bn (£5.3bn) in return for Turkey curbing migration flows.
Erdoğan has accused the EU in recent months of a lack of solidarity with his military operations in Syria and claims the true cost of housing refugees in his country has been close to €40bn.
As he greeted Michel, Erdoğan patted his chest with his hand and said “corona” in the direction of the assembled photographers, in an apparent explanation of the lack of a handshake between the two men. Michel said the two sides had “different opinions on different things, and that is why it is important to have a frank and open dialogue”.
Von der Leyen accused Erdoğan of politicising the border to extract concessions from Brussels and insisted that a “future-proof” solution should be found to avoid a repeat of the violent scenes.
“The events at the Greek-Turkish border clearly point to politically motivated pressure on the EU’s external border,” she said. “Finding a solution to this situation will require relieving the pressure that is put on the border.”