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Thursday 22 February 2018

Turkey demands extra 3 billion euro to deal with refugee crisis

European Council President Donald Tusk, front right, shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at the EU summit in Brussels (AP)
European Council President Donald Tusk, front right, shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at the EU summit in Brussels (AP)

Turkey has demanded an additional 3 billion euro (£2.3 billion) from the European Union to help deal with the refugee crisis.

Turkey - a temporary home to an estimated 2.75 million refugees, many from the conflict in Syria - is an indispensable EU partner in trying to dissuade people fleeing conflict or poverty from taking to makeshift boats and making the short but often-dangerous trip across the Aegean Sea.

"To avoid that refugees arrive in Greece we have to cooperate with Turkey," French President Francois Hollande said as he arrived for the EU-Turkey summit in Brussels.

In a draft statement prepared for the talks, seen by The Associated Press, the leaders said they will pursue "comprehensive, large scale and fast track returns to Turkey of all irregular migrants not in need of international protection".

But Turkish leaders have upped the ante, demanding the additional funds by 2018, on top of 3 billion euro the EU had already pledged to help Syrian refugees in the country, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said.

Turkey has also made requests to ease visa rules by June instead of the end of the year.

The country also wants to be able to send Syrian refugees to the 28-nation EU as they take people back who have made the crossing into Greece. The EU is desperate to halt the flow of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea.

Nato ships are also set to help patrol the sea between Greece and Turkey, easing the load on Turkey's military-run coastguard.

Turkey says this summit is as much about its thwarted EU membership ambitions as Europe's inability to manage the refugee emergency. The membership talks have dragged on for a decade and Ankara is looking for improved negotiating conditions.

"Turkey is ready to work with the EU, and Turkey is ready to be a member of the EU as well," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters, expressing hope that the talks "will be a success story and a turning point in our relations."

A planned news conference with Mr Davutoglu was cancelled after the Turks made new demands. They are expected to be discussed over a dinner, which was added to the summit programme.

In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the EU of failing to deliver on the refugee fund and criticised the Europeans for refusing to take in more refugees.

"We are not sending them. They are going (to Greece) by sea and many of them are dying. We have rescued close to 100,000 from the sea. Others are puncturing their boats and causing their deaths," Mr Erdogan said, in an address to women trade-unionists.

North of Greece, Macedonia has effectively sealed off the main route into the Balkans, allowing just a trickle of people through. The move - backed by Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and Hungary - has ratcheted up pressure from the other side as Greek authorities don't have enough shelter for those who are stranded.

Hundreds of thousands of people have used the route in recent months to try to reach preferred destinations like Germany or the countries of Scandinavia.

An estimated 13,000-14,000 people waited at Greece's border with Macedonia on Monday hoping desperately to be allowed to cross.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, conceded that Turkey will need extra help if more migrants are sent back.

"We will need to bring relief to Turkey, and that means you have to be willing to take people in from Turkey" who are the most likely to qualify for asylum, he said.

Press Association

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