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Griechenland Künstler Ai Weiwei mit weißem Flügel in Idomeni
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/EPA/Y. Kolesidis

Piano v. EU refugee policy

March 13, 2016

Austria and France have objected to the EU's refugee trading deal with Turkey. At the closed Greek-Macedonian border, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has enabled a Syrian refugee to play a piano amid the rain and mud.


French President Francois Hollande has followed Austria's Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner in questioning the EU's refugee crisis deal with Turkey that is due to be finalized by next Thursday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who on Sunday faces crucial electoral tests in three German states, had pressed at EU talks last Monday for Turkey to act as a brake on people looking to leave Turkey for Europe's shores.

Hollande on Saturday demanded more "clarification and transparency" in ongoing EU talks with Ankara on the plan to tighten the EU external border between EU-member Greece and non-member Turkey.

"There cannot be any concessions on the matter of human rights or the criteria for visa liberalization," Hollande said.

The EU-Turkey plan would see migrants stuck in Greece sent back to Turkey, with Ankara being permitted to send a war refugee directly to Europe for every Syrian refugee sent back to Turkey. The deal also include billions of euro in aid to improve refugee facilities within Turkey.

The concept has already been slammed by European parliamentarians and the UNHCR as a breach of the individualized right to asylum.

'Not at any price,' says Austria

Austria's Mikl-Leitner told the German newspaper "Welt am Sonntag" that Europe must ask itself "whether we take ourselves and our values seriously, while we talk about accelerating visa-free travel with a country [Turkey] that just recently placed media critical of its government under compulsory administration."

Johanna Mikl-Leitner
Deal with Turkey 'not at any price,' says Mikl-LeitnerImage: Reuters/H.-P. Bader

"It is okay to cooperate with Turkey but not at any price," she said, referring to media strictures imposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's administration.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz in an interview with the Austrian website Oe24 said any future redistribution of refugees from Turkey to Europe would only happen when EU nations saw that the refugee "flow" had been reduced.

"Otherwise all EU nations fear being overwhelmed," Kurz said.

Referring to Germany's intake in 2015 of more than 1 million asylum seekers, Kurz said Vienna had stopped the daily "waving-through" of 15,000 people. Instead it instituted caps both on the number of people allowed daily to apply asylum in Austria and the number of people allowed to transit through the country to other EU nations.

"With a deal with Turkey and an efficient control of the EU external border, one will once again be able to get the refugee crisis totally under control," he said.

Piano to shame EU?

Berlin-based Chinese artist Ai Weiwei turned up with a white piano at Idomeni, a sodden improvised camp next to the closed border crossing with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Saturday to highlight the plight of refugees.

Pianist and Syrian refugee Nour Alkhzam said it felt "very good to be able to put my hands on the piano again."

Ai, who held aloft plastic sheeting to deflect the rain, said Alkhzam was trying to reach Germany to be with her husband.

EU policy a 'disgrace,' says Blüm

An estimated 12,000 refugees still hoping for a reopening of the Idomeni crossing after last weekend's Austrian-led closure of the Balkans route. They were joined on Saturday by Norbert Blüm, a former German social and labor minister.

Blüm, who served in the 80s and 90s under former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, described the scene at Idomeni as a "cultural disgrace."

"This form of brutality is unbefitting European culture," he said.

"What sort of solution actually is this?" said the 80-year-old, who had brought his own tent to spend the night with the refugees.

"They sit comfortably back and say, Greece should cope," he said, referring to border closures imposed by EU nations along the Balkans route.

Leave, says Greece in pamphlets

Greek authorities on Saturday distributed multilingual pamphlet at Idomeni, urging migrants to relocate to army-erected camps elsewhere in northern Greece, saying they offered better facilities, including warm showers.

Poor hygiene at Idomeni has been blamed for two cases of Hepatitis B that have emerged since Friday. One involved a 9-year-old girl.

Greek deputy defense minister Dimitris Vitsas said since Friday 400 refugees had left the site and that by the end of next week there would be 50,000 spots available for asylum seekers.

"I hope the situation at Idomeni is resolved within a week without recourse to force," he told Mega TV.

ipj/sms (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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