EU ministers worry about draft deal with Turkey

AFP

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Syrian refugees wait on a roadside after Turkish police prevented them from sailing off to the Greek island of Farmakonisi by dinghies, near a beach in the western Turkish coastal town of Didim, Turkey, March 9, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Umit Bektas Syrian refugees wait on a roadside after Turkish police prevented them from sailing off to the Greek island of Farmakonisi by dinghies, near a beach in the western Turkish coastal town of Didim, Turkey, March 9, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Umit Bektas

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EU ministers raised doubts Thursday about the morality of a deal their governments are negotiating with Turkey to curb migrant flows to Europe as Ankara faces criticism on human rights.
European Union interior ministers were discussing a draft deal reached at an EU-Turkey summit on Monday, which involves a one-for-one swap of Syrian refugees, in hopes of sealing an agreement at a fresh leaders' meeting next week.
Austria's interior minister Johanna Miki-Leitner told reporters it is "very dubious" that Turkey should have seized opposition Zeman newspaper and then "confronts the European Union with a wish list three days later."
With Turkey hoping Europe will reward its cooperation on migrants with visa-free access for its citizens, Miki-Leitner said: "I am seriously wondering whether we are taking ourselves and our values seriously or if we are throwing them overboard."
The EU has stopped short of condemning Turkey's seizure of the newspaper but has urged it to meet European standards of press freedoms in its drawn-out bid to join the EU, negotiations that Ankara wants accelerated in return for its cooperation on migrants.
Belgium's interior minister Jan Jambon said the Turks are "far removed from European principles and values" and raised questions about whether the deal could be finalized at a summit in Brussels March 17-18.
"We must look at the details to see if it's feasible," Jambon added.
Belgian immigration minister Theo Francken meanwhile called for an "anti-drowning" plan to stop people dying in the Mediterranean.
Luxembourg's 'concerns'
Luxembourg's migration minister Jean Asselborn said EU countries have to check the deal "legally, diplomatically, politically, but as well humanly."
He added: "We have to be careful that people who fled from Aleppo (in Syria) and are in the European Union (...) will not be sent back. There I have concerns."
The United Nations' human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein voiced alarm Thursday over the draft deal that could see "illegal" collective and "arbitrary expulsions" of migrants from Greece to Turkey.
Concerns are all the higher as Turkey is not a full signatory to the Geneva Convention on refugees.
Under the deal, the EU would resettle one Syrian refugee from camps in Turkey in exchange for every Syrian that Turkey takes from Greece.
Dutch migration minister Klaas Dijkhoff, whose country holds the six-month rotating presidency of the 28-nation EU, said the deal would be "temporary" if approved.
He added: "And then we will have to talk with Turkey about a more permanent resettlement scheme in a sense of burden sharing."
Under the one-for-one deal, the resettlement places would be taken from an existing EU plan to resettle 22,000 Syrians from camps in the Middle East and from 54,000 unallocated places from a slow-moving EU plan to redistribute refugees from Greece and Italy.
Turkey's European affairs minister Volkan Bozkir said Thursday his country would take back "tens of thousands" of migrants, "not hundreds of thousands or millions", and they would "not include the existing refugees on the Greek islands".

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