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23rd Jan 2022

No migrant swap deal, says Turkey

  • Ankara: Turkey already hosts 2.7 million Syrian refugees, but people fleeing the siege of Aleppo are now being pushed back (Photo: Jorge Franganillo)

Turkey has rejected a Dutch-led migrant swap deal, as Balkan nations threaten border clampdowns to stem the inflows of people.

The Netherlands, currently chairing the EU presidency, had proposed an annual resettlement of up 250,000 people from Turkey to member states in return for Ankara stopping people from crossing into Greece.

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But Turkey's ambassador to the EU Selim Yenel told the Guardian newspaper on Wednesday (10 February) the proposal would never work.

"Forget it. It's unacceptable. And it's not feasible," he said.

Yenel's comments follow similar criticisms made by Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu during a visit to The Hague.

"I find it hypocritical that some circles are telling Turkey to 'open your borders' while at the same time failing to tell Russia 'enough is enough'," said Davutoglu.

He was referring to EU calls for Turkey to accept Syrians fleeing the latest Russian-backed bombing in northern Syria.

His comments were directed, in part, at EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who said Turkey had a moral duty to protect the fleeing Syrian civilians.

Turkey hosts some 2.7 million Syrian refugees and has spent billions on their care, but it has also been accused by aid organisations of push backs, with thousands now stranded on its border.

The EU is negotiating lifting visa restrictions on Turkish nationals by October and also wants to start returning failed asylum applicants who transited through Turkey by the summer.

The broadening migration crisis, compounded by failing EU policies and diverging national political tensions, has increased pressure to extend internal border checks to up to two years.

The border checks within areas of the EU passport-free Schengen zone, and Austria's recent announcement it would not accept more than 37,500 asylum seekers per year, have sparked fears of bottlenecks along the Western Balkan route.

Those fears are likely to increase after the European commission on Wednesday imposed a one month deadline on Greece.

The EU executive wants Athens to improve asylum conditions so that other EU states can transfer applicants back to Greece under the strained Dublin asylum system.

"This does not mean transfers will start. We are not there yet," said EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Meanwhile, Western Balkan countries are announcing they won't become de-facto holding zones for migrants stuck along the route.

"Those people will not be able to be stationed here," Serbia’s foreign minister Ivica Dacic was quoted as saying in Serbian media outlet b92.

Authorities in Macedonia made similar statements. Its foreign minister Nikola Poposki said they are prepared to allow the passage Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan but at the same time is shoring up extra barriers along the Greek border.

The three nationalities are only allow through if they intend to seek asylum in Germany or Austria.

Human Rights Watch says thousands of others, who may have a legitimate claim, are now stuck in Greece.

"Desperate people who are the wrong nationality are being denied the right to move on, beaten by border guards if they try to cross, and preyed upon by smugglers," said Human Rights Watch Peter Bouckaert.

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