Turkey and EU hail successes of migrant deal
By Eszter Zalan
The EU commission and Turkey have praised their controversial migrant deal for breaking the business model of the people smugglers and decreasing the number of migrants travelling to Europe.
EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu talked about the deal at the Council of Europe on Tuesday (19 April), a day before the EU’s executive was due to unveil its first assessment of the agreement.
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“The plan is starting to work. Since the agreement took effect, we have seen a sharp decrease in the number crossing the Aegean from Turkey into Greece,” Juncker told the human rights watchdog.
“We are breaking the cruel business model of smugglers.”
In his speech, Davutoglu insisted that Turkey had “fulfilled all its commitments in the deal”.
“The number of crossings from Turkey to Greece has gone down to 60, and sometimes zero, people a day. This is a successful deal.”
However, he added that the €3 billion pledged by the EU to Turkey to help care for the 2.7 million refugees there is not yet in place.
The agreement on returning migrants to Turkey, signed in March, was criticised for allowing migrants to be detained, and failing to provide proper legal safeguards.
Juncker insisted the deal respected European and international norms, saying he was “not happy about all that criticism”.
EU border agency Frontex said on Monday that the agreement had led to a “noticeable” reduction in the number of migrants arriving on the Greek islands in March.
The total number was 26,460 - half of February's figure.
Frontex also said in the first half of April, on average, there had been fewer than 100 daily arrivals of migrants on Greek islands.
But Juncker said that Turkey should not expect special treatment on visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in Europe.
Davutoglu earlier warned that Turkey would no longer honour the accord, if the EU failed to ease visa requirements by June.
"As part of the agreement, we are working towards visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens. Turkey must fulfil all remaining conditions," Juncker said.
"Visa liberalisation is a matter of criteria. The criteria will not be watered down in the case of Turkey," he added.
Granting visa waiver to 75 million Turks is highly sensitive issue among EU states, with some fearing it would open the way for more Muslim migration to the bloc.
Europe needs Turkey
Davutoglu told the Council of Europe that “discrimination and intolerance is rising in European societies”.
“Muslims, migrants and Roma people unfortunately become the primary victims of discrimination,” he added, saying it was “strange that there is some maltreatment of Syrian refugees and migrants in Europe”.
Meanwhile, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan told supporters in Ankara on Tuesday that “the European Union needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the European Union”.
Erdogan denounced as “provocative” last week's European Parliament report that said Ankara was backsliding on democracy.
He lashed out at the report for not praising Turkey for hosting refugees from Syria and Iraq.
He said: "Three million people have been looked after in this country so they don't disturb the Europeans. Is there anything about this in the report?"
The Turkish president has threatened before to open the gates to migrants into Europe, if negotiations with the EU do not go his way.