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Turkey says EU funds not being actively used for needs of Syrian refugees

EU officials have said Turkey has a long path ahead of it before becoming a member of the bloc or being granted visa-free travel.

FILE: Syrian children, who were evacuated from the last rebel-held pockets of Syria's northen city of Aleppo, flash the sign of victory upon their arrival on 19 December 2016. Picture: AFP.

ISTANBUL - A substantial portion of the funds promised by the European Union (EU) to help Syrian refugees in Turkey is still not being used actively to meet their needs, Turkey’s EU Ministry said on Saturday.

Of the €6 billion agreed upon in two deals in 2015 and 2016, only €1.78 billion has been transferred to Turkish ministries and international organisations responsible for implementing the projects, the ministry said in a statement.

“While Turkey has used more than $30 billion of its national funds for the needs of Syrians who have been in Turkey for approximately seven years, a substantial amount of the €3 billion promised by the EU in November 2015 has effectively not been used in the field.”

Of the €1.78 billion transferred so far, it said €1.3 billion went to international organisations, €270 million to the Ministry of Education, €120 million to the Ministry of Health, and €12 million to the Ministry of the Interior.

Yet that did not equate to the funds being actively used to meet the needs of Syrian refugees, the ministry said.

“Unfortunately, the spending mechanism of the EU funds are not working fast,” it said.

In the past, Turkey has argued it would be easier to give the money directly to the government - something the EU rejects, saying it always channels humanitarian aid through specialised agencies and non-governmental institutions so it goes directly to those in need.

In return for funds for Syrian refugees, visa-free travel and revitalised EU accession efforts, Turkey agreed to cooperate in stopping migrants crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece and take back those who do not qualify for asylum.

However, relations between Turkey and the West deteriorated in the past year. EU officials have said Turkey has a long path ahead of it before becoming a member of the bloc or being granted visa-free travel.

More recently, Turkey has expressed anger that Germany is granting asylum to Turks, more than 400 of them with diplomatic passports and government working permits, accused of participating in a failed coup in July.

The failed putsch prompted a purge of the Turkish military, judiciary and civil service which Western countries have criticised as heavy-handed.

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