EU leaders back Turkey migrant deal, look to Davutoglu for approval

EU leaders gave their blessing Friday to a contentious new migration deal with Turkey, paving the way for the country's prime minister to consider granting his final approval.

Ahmet Davutoglu was meeting with his 28 EU counterparts in Brussels on Friday afternoon.

"We are very comfortable or certain that he will also agree to it," an EU source said on condition of anonymity.

The plan is the European Union's latest effort to end an uncontrolled surge of migrants and asylum seekers that saw more than 1 million people reach European shores last year. Most crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, aiming to then move on to wealthy northern countries.

The new deal has been lambasted by human rights advocates for a provision that foresees up to 72,000 Syrian asylum seekers being returned from Greece back to Turkey. The EU argues that the move is key to undercut migrant smuggling networks in the Aegean.

Under the new deal, migrants would start being returned from Greece to Turkey as of March 20, the EU source said.

In exchange for Ankara's help, the EU would resettle up to 72,000 Syrian asylum seekers out of Turkey. This new, one-for-one resettlement scheme would be abandoned if the 72,000 threshold is exceeded, the source said.

The EU is also expected to promise Turkey a quicker disbursement of 3 billion euros in already-promised aid, as well as more financial support on top of that, to help it cope with more than 2 million Syrians it has taken in.

Turkey has also sought visa-free access to the bloc for its citizens by June and progress on the country's long-standing bid for EU membership - demands that had proven controversial within the bloc.

The deal, if approved by Davutoglu, will mention the opening of negotiations on financial and budgetary provisions with Turkey as part of its membership process, the EU source said.

The Turkish premier expressed confidence earlier Friday that he could finalize the new plan.

"I am sure we will be achieving our goal to help all the refugees, as well as to deepen Turkish-EU relations," Davutoglu told journalists in Brussels, before spending the morning hashing out the outlines of the deal with a small group of top EU officials.

He insisted that for his country, "the refugee issue is not an issue of bargaining but an issue of value – humanitarian values as well as European values."

Human rights advocates, however, have been aghast at the proposed deal, most notably the plan for the swapping of the 72,000 Syrian asylum seekers.

"This is a bitter day for refugees," Guenter Burkhardt of the German refugee aid organization Pro Asyl said on Friday morning. "The EU is selling the human rights of refugees to Turkey."

Turkey has been criticized for not offering refugees adequate housing or access to education. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian behaviour, including a recent crackdown on opposition media, has also been condemned by rights activists.

"EU leaders have been mute in their response to these trends in the misguided hope of securing Turkey's co-operation in stopping the boats," said Kenneth Roth of the Human Rights Watch organization.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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