Wednesday 28 September 2016

Turkey to take back all illegal migrants in EU deal

Ralph Casert in Brussels

Published 08/03/2016 | 02:30

Turkey said it would be willing to make greater efforts to contain irregular migration. Photo: PA
Turkey said it would be willing to make greater efforts to contain irregular migration. Photo: PA

European Union leaders late last night said they had reached the outlines for a breakthrough deal with Ankara to return thousands of migrants to Turkey.

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Officials said they were confident that a full agreement could be reached at a summit next week.

During 12 hours of negotiations, Turkey insisted that any agreement would require Europe to advance Turkey's long-delayed hope of joining the bloc.

As an additional step, Turkey said it expects EU nations to ease its visa restrictions on Turkish citizens within months.

Turkey said it would be willing to make greater efforts to contain irregular migration.

"This is a welcome approach," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. However, she warned that "it needs more time" for the member states to fully approve it.

Breakthrough

British Prime Minister David Cameron said: "We do have the basis for a breakthrough which is the possibility that in future all migrants who arrive in Greece will be returned to Turkey."

The sides will now reconvene at a two-day summit starting on March 17.

Turkey, home to 2.75 million refugees chiefly from neighbouring Syria, surprised EU counterparts yesterday by demanding a doubling of funding beyond the €3bn already pledged.

"Turkey is ready to work with the EU, and Turkey is ready to be a member of the EU as well," Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davatoglu told reporters in Brussels.

For its part, the EU sought to gain stronger commitments from Turkey to take back refugees who have reached European shores and ease a crisis that has left an estimated 13,000 to 14,000 souls encamped in the wintry cold on the Greece-Macedonia border.

"To stop refugees arriving in Greece, we have to cooperate with Turkey," French President Francois Hollande said.

Even though many saw the outlines of a deal, it was still too early to clinch it.

In the Turkish capital Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the EU of failing to provide enough of the already pledged funds.

He also criticised Europe for refusing to accept asylum seekers more readily, linking that policy to needless deaths as thousands opt to cross illegally by sea from the Turkish coast to offshore Greek islands.

Irish Independent

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