19th Mar 2018

Turkish PM issues EU visa ultimatum

Turkey's prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu has warned the migrant swap deal with the EU risks collapse unless visa restrictions are lifted on Turkish nationals by June as planned.

"I maintain my belief that, god willing, we will have the visa exemption in June. In the absence of that, then of course no-one can expect Turkey to adhere to its commitments," he said on Monday (18 April) in Ankara.

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The statement comes ahead of a meeting in Strasbourg on Tuesday between Davutoglu and EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at the assembly of the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog.

The deal agreed with EU leaders in late March is supposed to stop irregular flows of migrants to Greece by deporting people back to Turkey.

For every one person deported from Greece, an EU state would voluntarily resettle a Syrian refugee from Turkey.

Capped at 72,000, around 96 Syrians have been resettled from Turkey since the launch of the scheme on 20 March.

In exchange, Turkey requested to open up new negotiation chapters for EU accession, receive some €6 billion of EU funds for Syrian refugees, and have short-term visas wavered on visiting Turks before the end of June.

But Turkey first has to meet some 72 technical requirements before the short-stay visa restrictions are removed in the passport-free Schengen zone.

The requirements are linked to document security, migration management, security, fundamental rights, and the readmission of irregular of migrants. As of last month, it had met around half of the conditions.

The European Commission, for its part, will on Wednesday present a review of how well the EU-Turkey migrant deal has been implemented as well as a separate progress report of its action plan with Ankara.

The EU executive is sending its vice-president Frans Timmermans to the Turkish city of Gaziantep on April 23 to discuss the deal where he will be joined by German chancellor Angela Merkel and EU council chief Donald Tusk.

Sharp drop in numbers

Meanwhile, the EU border agency Frontex says the flow to Greece has dropped sharply since the deal entered into force on 20 March.

Around 3,500 arrived in Greece since 20 March, compared to around 22,900 that arrived between 1 and 20 March.

"In first half of April, there have been fewer than 100 daily arrivals of migrants on Greek islands, on average," said Frontex on Monday.

But while the figures may have dropped, serious issues of ill-treatment of migrants shuffled into detention facilities on the Greek islands surface on almost a daily basis from aid organisations.

Last week, Human Rights Watch accused Greek authorities, in coordination with the European Union, of blanket detention of all asylum seekers and migrants arriving on the islands in Lesbos and Chios.

And some 46,000, mostly women and children, are now stranded in Greece following border closures along the Western Balkan route.

Concerns are also mounting that the brake on migrant flows from Turkey has, in part, caused a spike in numbers in Italy.

More than 15,000 have arrived in Italy since the start of March.

Earlier this week, around 500 people reportedly drowned after disembarking from the Libyan coast in their efforts to reach Italy.

Their deaths come on the eve of a one-year anniversary when up to 800 drowned off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Turkey edges closer to EU visa-free travel

The EU commission suggested it could propose visa-free travel for Turkish citizens on 4 May, if all requirements are met. Member states pledged to accelerate the procedure, but reservations remain.

Top MEP: EU 'must ensure visa waivers can be halted'

Manfred Weber, leader of the conservative MEP bloc, urges the EU to ensure it can suspend visa-waiver schemes, as the commission moves closer to recommending visa-free travel for Turkey.

Evacuated women from Libya arrive newly-pregnant

Niger has temporarily stopped all evacuations from Libya detention centres under an EU funded programme because so few are being resettled to Europe. Many of those that have been evacuated are pregnant, with some asking for HIV testing.

EU billions had 'limited' effect in Turkey, audit finds

The EU got "limited" effect for the €9bn it spent trying to modernise Turkey in recent years, auditors have said. Turkey has been "backsliding" on reforms since 2013 due to "lack of political will", the European Court of Auditors found.

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