Wednesday

11th Dec 2019

EU: Turkey must do more to stop migrant flow

  • Avramopoulos: 'The Turkish authorities, if they really want, can do the job on the ground, fighting smugglers and stemming the flow' (Photo: Christopher Jahn/IFRC)

The European Commission urged Turkey on Wednesday (10 February) to do more to stem the flow of migrants crossing into Greece.

A report published by the EU’s executive reviews efforts made by Turkey since Ankara and the EU agreed last November to work together on reducing the influx of people seeking refuge in Europe.

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Under the agreement, Turkey pledged to step up efforts to crack down on people smugglers, allow Syrian refugees to work in Turkey and create better conditions for the 2.7 million refugees in the country.

In exchange, the EU promised €3 billion for refugees in Turkey, an accelerated visa liberalisation process and opening new chapters in Turkey’s EU membership negotiations.

Wednesday’s report states that new arrivals have been reduced somewhat, but not enough.

“Turkey needs as a matter of urgency to make significant progress in preventing irregular departures of migrants and refugees from its territory to the EU, notably by stepping up land based operations,” the commission says, adding that the total number of arrivals remains high for winter.

It adds that Turkey should also reinforce the interception capacity of the Turkish Coast Guard.

According to the commission’s data, the average daily arrivals from Turkey to Greece were 2,186 in January, 6,929 in October and 3,575 in December.

“If Turkey is not engaged, if Turkey is not committed, and it does not start to deliver, it will be very, very difficult to manage the situation,” Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU’s migration commissioner, told reporters on Wednesday.

“The Turkish authorities, if they really want, can do the job on the ground, fighting smugglers and stemming the flow,” the Greek commissioner added.

Asked what would be the “acceptable” rate as a decrease in new arrivals, a commission source said there's no fixed number, but the rate is still high, as it is 15 times more than in the same period last year.

Wednesday's report acknowledges some of the measures taken by the Turkish authorities, such as the introduction of visa obligations for Syrians arriving from a third country, sharply reducing arrivals from Lebanon and Jordan, where hundreds of thousands fled the war in Syria.

Turkish authorities also gave access to the labour market to Syrians.

Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, the main negotiator with Ankara from the bloc's executive, in a press released welcomed those steps.

The commission would like to see Turkey improve the implementation of the readmission agreement with Greece, allowing the Greeks to send more people back.

A similar agreement with the EU for third country nationals should also come into force from 1 June this year.

The commission hopes it can use the pledged €3 billion as leverage to get Turkey on board in all fronts.

The steering committee of the Turkey fund will have its first meeting on 17 February, while Ankara is preparing recommendations for projects to finance.

Over 880,000 people arrived from Turkey to Greece since the beginning of 2015.

A Turkish source said Ankara is fully committed to the joint plan.

“We must patiently focus on the implementation of the Joint Action Plan and ensure that the measures taken yield long-term results, rather than short term ones,” the source added.

Turkey's prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, is set to meet leaders from a handful of EU states ahead of an EU summit in Brussels next Thursday.

Nato support

Also on Wednesday, Nato defence ministers discussed the possible support for Turkey patrolling the Aegean Sea, where migrants cross in rubber boats.

Nato director Jens Stoltenberg noted the alliance already has air and naval surveillance assets in the Black Sea. He said a decision on the German-Turkish appeal will "hopefully" be decided on Thursday.

"When Nato allies request support to cope with such a great challenge ... we have to look very carefully into whether and how we can make a contribution and a difference. It's being discussed and assessed now," he said.

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