Wednesday

23rd May 2018

EU asking Turkey to take back migrants

  • Tusk (l) and Davutoglu in Ankara on Thursday (Photo: consillium.europa.eu)

In its effort to reduce the flow of migrants coming to Europe, the EU is now focusing on sending back economic migrants to Turkey.

"To many in Europe, the most promising method seems to be a fast and large-scale mechanism to ship back irregular migrants arriving in Greece," European Council president Donald Tusk said on Thursday (3 March) in Ankara.

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  • The Ankara visit completed a tour of several Balkan capitals by the EU Council chief (Photo: consillium.europa.eu)

"It would effectively break the busines model of the smugglers," he said.

At a joint press conference with Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Tusk said that despite a "good and growing cooperation" between the EU and Turkey, "the refugee flows remain far too high and further action is needed".

As Turkey doesn't seem to be able to decisively stop migrants crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece, it is now being asked to take back those who don't qualify for asylum.

A first group of 308 migrants from Mahgreb, posing as Syrians, was already sent back from Greece on Wednesday on the basis of a Greek-Turkish readmission agreement.

Next Monday, at an EU-Turkey summit, "the minimum outcome" will be an agreement to "accelerate readmission of third country nationals and economic migrants," Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte also told the Reuters press agency the same day as Tusk’s Ankara visit.

A "preferred outcome" for Rutte would also be that EU and Turkish leaders agree that if in "a couple of weeks … the numbers coming from Turkey to Greece are really coming down with the zero being visible … a more ambitious resettlement" scheme could be started.

No specific numbers

After the EU-Turkey joint action plan was agreed in November, the goal set was to stop the flow by spring and then resettle refugees from Turkey to EU countries that volunteered to take them

The objective now is to "reduce as much as possible illegal influx of migrant to Europe," Tusk said in Ankara.

"We didn't agree on specific numbers," Tusk said after his discussion with Davutoglu.

"It's not about numbers. It’s about an ongoing and permanent process," Tusk said, adding that it was difficult for both sides to implement every detail of the action plan in just a few weeks.

"Turkey is here to fulfill its responsabilities," Davutoglu said at the press conference.

The Turkish PM spoke more about the "new phase" of the EU-Turkish relations, however.

The EU has promised Turkey to open more chapters in accession negotiations and to speed up its application for visa-free travel for Turkish nationals to the EU.

Turkish officials are concerned that France will block the visa-free deal, however. One source told EUobserver that if it did, then Turkey would cancel arrangements to take back migrants from the EU.

Greece 'not alone'

Before Ankara, Tusk was in Athens Thursday morning, where he met the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

He said that "Greece or any other European country will no longer be a transit country" for migrants and urged llegal economic migrants "wherever [they] are from", not to come to Europe.

"Do not believe the smugglers. Do not risk your lives and your money. It is all for nothing," he said.

Tusk also assured Greece, where up to 70,000 refugees could be in need of humanitarian aid, of the EU's support.

"The European Union will not leave Greece alone," he said, noting that "Greece and the Greek people are paying a very high price for the problem they themselves did not create".

Tsipras, for his part, asked that "unilateral actions stop in Europe".

"Greece will demand that all countries respect the European treaty and that there will be sanctions for those that do not," he said.

His reference to unilateral actions comes after Austria, two weeks, all-but closed its border, prompting similar action by Serbia and Macedonia and creating a build-up of people in Greece.

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