28th Feb 2024

EU hopes Turkey deal will keep out African migrants

  • Turkey wants to participate in EU summits (Photo: orangejack)

EU interior ministers on Thursday (24 February) gave the green light to a readmission agreement with Turkey which they hope may help stem irregular migration into the EU from the Middle East and Africa. Visa-free travel, despite calls from Ankara, remains a distant prospect.

"Some 80,000 illegal migrants come through the Greek-Turkish border every year. If we adopt this agreement speedily, we can reduce some of the pressure there," Hungarian interior minister Sandor Pinter, who chaired the EU meeting, said during a press conference on Thursday evening.

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At the end of October 2010, the EU's Warsaw-based Frontex border agency sent some 200 border guards equipped with cars and helicopters to the land border between Greece and Turkey where hundreds of irregular migrants cross each day day. The influx has since halved and the EU mission will be scaled down to some 80 guards from next week on.

Under the readmission agreement, which had been stuck in Ankara-Brussels talks since 2002, Turkey will be obliged to take back its citizens or other nationals who come into the EU via Turkey without proper visas or asylum claims.

In the last few years, Ankara has signed a series of visa-free agreements with north African and middle Eastern countries.

Direct flights to Istanbul "[are] making it really easy" for people to come to the Greek border and chance their luck, Frontex chief Ilka Leitinen said at an earlier event on Wednesday in Brussels. He added that Libya has become a special focus for his the agency.

Interior ministers on Thursday discussed several possible scenarios of massive numbers of refugees heading for Europe.

EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said Turkey is "an important transit country" for migrants and welcomed the political deal on the readmission agreement.

The agreement still needs to be approved and implemented by Turkey and the European Parliament.

Ankara's hope of a speedy visa-free regime with the EU is likely to be disappointed, however. Ms Malmstrom said a "visa dialogue" will be launched, but it will focus mainly on legislative adjustments in Turkey, on "systematic use of multiple entry visas for business people and students" and improving EU consular facilities in the country.

Despite this, Turkey's chief EU negotiator, Egemen Bagis, said on Thursday the readmission pact is a step on the path to visa-free. "Once the commission has that mandate we will sign the readmission agreement and then we anticipate visa facilitations and by the time that we complete [EU accession] negotiatons we would expect visa liberalisation," he told AFP.

He said Turkey should be able to come to EU summits and called "not correct and ridiculous" that Turks have to apply for visas while people from Belize, Uruguay and Paraguay can enter the EU as they like.

Regarding the readmission agreement, Mr Bagis saito tackle the illegal flow of migrants to Europe had been finalized, but it remained contingent on European Commission's securing a mandate to liberalize the visa regime.

Turkey started EU accession talks in 2005 but did not get very far due to its frozen conflict with EU member Cyprus and broader French and German antipathy towards Turkish enlargement.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is on Friday to make his first trip to Ankara since he came to office in 2007. He said that the flying visit of just four hours is to be made in his capacity as chairman of the G20 industrialised nations' club not as head of state of France.

"I think this is not a visit at the level of the friendship between Turkey and France. Turkish-French ties deserve better than that," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan commented.

According to Turkish sources quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Turkish leaders plan to tell Mr Sarkozy that the EU has been "absent" during the current turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.

An EU troubleshooter in the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, Mr Sarkozy has been hardly visible on Tunisia and Egypt despite his country's strong colonial ties to the region.

Poland awaits EU-funds approval as Reynders visits Warsaw

Restoring the rule of law in Poland to unlock EU funds after the Law and Justice era marks a major challenge for Donald Tusk's new government, as EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders will see during a Warsaw visit on Friday

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