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Turkey threatens to abandon refugee deal

19 April 2016 14:34



Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warns the EU to uphold its promise to provide visa-free travel for Turks by June or see Ankara walk away from a key refugee deal.

Turkey and the EU last month sealed a controversial deal intended to stem the flow of refugees from Syria and other troubled countries to Europe in return for financial and political rewards for Ankara.

Under the deal, the EU will take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and reward it with money, visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.

“These pledges are mutual, if the European Union does not take the necessary steps, it would be unthinkable for Turkey to do so,” Davutoglu told a news conference before departing for Strasbourg.

He said 17 of the 75 requirements required for visa-free travel for Turks by June were yet to be completed, adding he expected those to be fulfilled by May.

A top European Union official said Turkey must meet all criteria for visa-free travel with Europe.

“Visa liberalisation is a matter of criteria. The criteria will not be watered down in the case of Turkey,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.

Granting visa waiver to Turkey, a country of 75 million, is highly controversial among EU states where some fear it would open the way for more refugees to the bloc already struggling with its worst migration crisis in decades.

More than 1.1 million refugees reached the EU over the last year, mostly via Greece from Turkey.

Davutoglu is scheduled to host German Chancellor Angela Merkel and president of the European Council Donald Tusk in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep on April 23 to discuss the refugee deal.

Syrian refugees leave the makeshift camp on the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, on April 18, 2016, at the start of their journey back to Syria via Athens and Istanbul. (Photo by AFP)

On April 7, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would stop implementing the deal if the EU failed to fulfill its promises.

“There are precise conditions. If the European Union does not take the necessary steps, then Turkey will not implement the agreement,” Erdogan said.

He added that everything that had been promised in the March 18 deal between Ankara and the EU must be put into action by the European side.

Under the EU-Turkey deal, Ankara agreed to take back all asylum seekers and refugees — including Syrian nationals — who had used its territory to illegally reach Greece in return for a number of commitments from the EU.

One such commitment is that the EU will take in one Syrian refugee directly from Turkish refugee camps in return for every Syrian the bloc returns to Turkey, with a cap at 72,000 asylum-seekers. Non-Syrians have no way into Europe.

Asylum seekers hold placards as they protest by blocking a railway in the makeshift camp on the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, April 17, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Leaders from EU member states, who met with Davutoglu on November 29, 2015, also pledged to provide €3 billion ($3.19 billion) to Turkey to help it handle more than two million Syrian refugees in the country. Another €3 billion will also be paid until the end of 2018.

EU leaders also promised to open fresh negotiations on Turkey’s accession process to the union, and to reward Turkish citizens with visa free access to the Schengen zone.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has voiced concern about the deal, saying it could lead to the “collective expulsions” of people fleeing war in violation of international law.

Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, who are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria.

Many blame major European powers for the unprecedented exodus, saying their policies have led to a surge in terrorism and war in those regions, forcing more people to flee their homes.

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