A recent deal between Turkey and the European Union for curbing the influx of migrants that has plunged Europe into its biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II does not mean Turkey will get back the refugees from Europe, Turkey’s prime minister has said.
Speaking to journalists on his way back from Brussels, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said there were two ways ahead of the sides.
“We either had to manage the ties to meet hen there had been a crisis, or we had to take our relations with the EU to a new level with the experience. We chose the second path” Davutoğlu said.
Turkey and the EU sealed a deal on March 18 in Brussels intended to halt illegal migration flows to Europe in return for financial and political rewards for Ankara.
The accord aims to close the main route by which a million migrants and refugees poured across the Aegean Sea to Greece in the last year before marching north to Germany and Sweden.
“The number of refugees in Turkey will not increase” said Davutoğlu. “The deal includes only those who arrive on the Greek islands as of March 20.”
Under the deal, Ankara would take back all migrants and refugees, including Syrians, who cross to Greece illegally across the sea. In return, the EU would take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and reward it with more money, early visa-free travel and faster progress in EU membership talks.
Ankara's central objective -- visa-free travel for Turks to Europe by June -- would still depend on Turkey meeting 72 long-standing EU criteria.
“We will have completed the necessary criteria for visa-free travel as of May 1” Davutoğlu told journalists.
Migrants who arrive in Greece from March 20 will be subject to being sent back once they have been registered and their individual asylum claim processed. The returns are to begin on April 4, as would resettlement of Syrian refugees in Europe.
The EU would also accelerate disbursement of 3 billion euros already pledged in support for refugees in Turkey and provide a further 3 billion by 2018. It would help Greece set up a task force of some 4,000 staff, including judges, interpreters, border guards and others to manage each case individually.
Turkey's four-decade-old dispute with Greek Cyprus had been a key stumbling block for the deal. Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades insisted there could be no opening of new "chapters" in Turkey's EU talks until Ankara de facto recognizes the Greek Cypriot state as the sole representative of the island .
But the issue was sidestepped as EU leaders agreed to open a negotiating chapter that was not one of the five blocked by Nicosia. Anastasiades said he was "fully satisfied" after the sides agreed to swiftly open only chapter 33 on budget policy.
But deep doubts remain about whether the deal is workable, a point acknowledged even by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who has been the key driving force behind the agreement.
"I have no illusions that what we agreed today will be accompanied by further setbacks. There are big legal challenges that we must now overcome" Merkel said.
"But I think we've reached an agreement that has an irreversible momentum," Merkel said, adding it showed that the EU was still capable of taking difficult decisions and managing complex crises.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the idea was to discourage illegal and perilous voyages across the Aegean and open legal paths to Europe instead.
"There is nothing humanitarian in letting people, families, children, step on boats, being tempted by cynical smugglers, and risk their lives," he said.