Helme: Refugees should have been pushed back in 2015 ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Mart Helme.
Mart Helme. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Refugees should not have been allowed to enter the European Union in 2015 and that the "genie was let out of the bottle", Minister of the Interior Mart Helme told ERR on Wednesday evening.

ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported from the European Council's Justice and Home Affairs Council which took place in Brussels on Wednesday.

Member states' ministers said how disturbed they were by seeing images of force being used against refugees at the border of Turkey and the European Union which have been reported in the media.

Turkey is threatening to go back on an agreement it made with the European Union to host refugees from Syria and other countries in exchange for money and relaxing visa requirements for Turks. The deal was made in 2016 and halted the flow of refugees entering the European Union.

However, Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) chairman and interior minister Mart Helme said: "It doesn't bother me at all, I think it should have been done in 2015."

He told Epp Ehand, ERR's Brussels correspondent: "In my opinion, that in 2015 they said that you are all welcome and please come was exactly what really let the genie out of the bottle. At the moment, it is quite clear that every effort is being made to refrain from sending encouraging messages."

At the meeting, the council adopted a statement on the situation which expressed "solidarity" with Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus and member states on the union's external borders.

It said: "While the Council acknowledges the increased migratory burden and risks Turkey is facing on its territory and the substantial efforts it has made in hosting 3,7 million migrants and refugees, it strongly rejects Turkey's use of migratory pressure for political purposes. This situation at EU's external borders is not acceptable. The Council expects Turkey to implement fully the provisions of the 2016 joint statement with regard to all member states."

Adding: "The EU and its member states remain determined to effectively protect EU's external borders. In this regard, the EU and its member states will take all necessary measures, in accordance with EU and international law."

Ehand also spoke to Finland's Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo. She said: "First of all, we should listen to the Greek point of view of the situation. There has also been some misinformation circulated, including from Turkey. The bottom line is that international agreements must be respected. Of course, Finnish border guards will not take part in such activities if those pictures are true."

Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs said: "We have to respect the regulations and ensure the protection of fundamental rights, that is absolutely crucial. I think we should be a little bit careful about information and rumors that have been going around. But fundamental rights must always be respected."

Ehand told AK the European Union has reiterated from the start of the that it understands Turkey's difficulties with refugees, but the current threats the country is making to open the border are not the solution.

She said the European Union is trying to negotiate with Turkey but, so far, not much progress has been made.

The interior ministers also discussed how to help Greece. The EU's message is that Greece has their strong support, that the external borders of the union must be protected and that no one wants to see a resurgence of irregular migration similar to 2015, which lead to the migration crisis.

Ehand said there is currently disagreement about how external borders should be protected. The EU has planned to support Greece by sending border guards and equipment through the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, and with additional officials being deployed to assist with the asylum process. Aid supplies are also being sent for refugees.

In total, the EU currently provides €700 million to support Greece.

Ehand added European Commissioners have now started to discuss asylum reform again, which had been stalled until now.

Data from the United Nations refugee agency shows Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide: close to 4.1 million, including 3.7 million Syrians and nearly 400,000 asylum seekers and refugees of other nationalities.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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