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4th Apr 2020

EU and Turkey agree draft refugee plan

  • (Photo: Consillium)

The EU and Turkey on Friday afternoon (18 March) came closer to a deal on a plan to stem the flow of migrants to Europe, but still needs the backing of all 28 EU leaders.

After three rounds of talks, the EU - represented by European Council president Donald Tusk, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte - and Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu came to an "agreeable" draft, according to an EU official.

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Tusk recommends that the 28 EU leaders adopt the draft plan without any changes, the official said.

The EU leaders were examining the new text in the afternoon before meeting with Davutoglu to seal the deal if all was fine with the draft.

Four main sticking points in the envisaged deal agreed by EU leaders the night before had to be overcome.

The first one was the "cut off" date when the plan would enter into force.

It was agreed that it would be on Sunday evening (20 March), at midnight. "All migrants coming to Greece after 20 March will be returned" to Turkey, the official said.

Quick implementation of the deal was a key concern for EU leaders, as a delay risked a surge of migrants trying to make it before the EU's doors shut.

There are still concerns however whether Greece has enough holding capacity, judges, and staff to handle tens of thousands of asylum seekers in such short notice.

The second sticking point had to do with legality.

The text specifies that asylum claims will be handled individually in Greece, and that international and EU law on refugees will be respected.

The revised text is said to include safeguards for the legality of the scheme under which Turkey would take back all migrants, including Syrians, while EU countries would resettle Syrian refugees on a one-for-one basis directly from Turkey.

The agreement includes a commitment that there would be no mass return of asylum seekers to Turkey, and that it will respect the principle of non-refoulement, meaning asylum seekers would not be returned or expelled to places where their lives or freedoms are under danger.

Human rights groups have earlier expressed concerns about the envisaged plan as a blanket mass return of asylum seekers, which is contrary to EU and international obligations.

Refugee fund and accession

The third issue concerned the €3 billion fund in exchange for Turkey's help.

Turkey has asked to double the existing €3 billion EU fund to help refugees on its territory and an acceleration of its EU accession process.

Its concern was that the initial €3 billion agreed last November was not disbursed quickly enough. Only €95 million has been earmarked for school programmes and humanitarian aid.

The EU told Davutoglu it was ready to identify, as early as next week, projects in areas like health or education in order to accelerate disbursement. But it did not commit to the requested additional €3 billion.

The last and most thorny issue was the opening of new chapters in Turkey's EU accession negotiations.

Ankara wanted to open five specific chapters which have been blocked by Cyprus because Turkey still doesn't recognise it.

The EU proposal to Turkey is to "re-energise and accelerate" the work "in full accordance with the negotiating framework".

That means Turkey will first have to meet EU demands, including the recognition of Cyprus through Cyprus' inclusion in the EU-Turkey customs union.

In the meantime, the EU offered Turkey to open one chapter, chapter 33 on budgetary issues, before the end of June.

Chapter 33 is easier to open because it is not controversial among any of the EU states. Despite the new chapter, Turkey's prospect for membership remains distant.

"No chapter more than another will anticipate membership," a diplomatic source said.

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