Europe

EU migration: EU presses Turkey to agree deal

A man carries his child shortly after he arrived, with other refugees and migrants, on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey, on 12 October 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Two million migrants are estimated to be in Turkey, many trying to reach the European Union from its shores

A delegation of European commissioners has travelled to Turkey in a last-ditch bid to secure a draft agreement on tackling Europe's migration crisis.

The EU had hoped to have an agreement in place ahead of a summit on Thursday.

But matters were delayed by three days of national mourning in Turkey after Saturday's bomb attacks in Ankara.

Nearly 600,000 migrants have reached the EU by sea so far this year, most via Turkey, says the International Organisation for Migration.

Turkey is thought to be hosting some two million migrants, most of them fleeing the war in neighbouring Syria.

In return for greater co-operation with the EU, Turkey is expected to press for more rapid progress towards visa-free travel for its citizens to European countries that have abolished border controls within the so-called Schengen area.

But the EU Council President Donald Tusk has warned that concessions will only be granted if they help reduce the influx of migrants, which stands at a record level.

Mr Tusk warned that next spring could bring an even bigger wave.


Migration in 2015

  • More than 590,000 arrivals by sea to Europe in 2015, the IOM says - EU border force Frontex records 710,000 arriving in Europe overall, but cautions that a "large number" may have been double-counted in Greece and then Hungary/Croatia
  • Up from 282,000 in 2014 (Frontex)
  • 350,000 people detected arriving on Greek islands January-September this year - mainly from Turkey (Frontex)
  • More than 3,000 people died trying to cross Mediterranean to Europe this year - mainly between Libya and Italy (IOM)

Sensitive

European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans is leading the delegation seeking to persuade the Turkish government to sign up to a joint action plan on the migration crisis.

Ahead of the visit, Mr Timmermans criticised EU nations for failing to provide funds and experts promised to help deal with the migrant crisis.

He said just three of the 28 EU members had pledged a total of about 12m euros (£8.9m; £13.7m) to a fund aimed at helping African countries manage their borders. The pot of money was supposed to accrue 1.8bn euros over two years.

Only 130 police officers have been volunteered to help fingerprint people, he continued, falling far short of the 1,000 officers the EU's border agency and asylum office had been hoping for.

"Words need to be matched with action," he told reporters before flying to Turkey.

The joint action plan includes:

  • Greater financial and procedural support for Turkey to deal with migrants
  • Gaining permission from Turkey to help patrol its coastline
  • Combating people smuggling
  • Strengthening return operations

Many of the issues are sensitive ones, say correspondents - Greece, for instance, fears Turkey could increase its presence in the Aegean Sea separating the two nations where the two have rival territorial claims.

And some EU member states have concerns about embracing Turkey, citing concerns over its human rights record, policies towards the Kurdish minority and media freedom.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The commissioners arrive at a tense time in Turkey, following Saturday's carnage in Ankara

The atmosphere in Turkey, meanwhile, remains febrile with three top Ankara officials - police, intelligence and security chiefs - suspended in the wake of Saturday's bombings in which 97 people died.

In a letter to the 29 EU leaders ahead of Thursday's summit in Brussels, Mr Tusk warned that the goal of talks with Turkey was "to stem the wave of refugees to Europe. An agreement with Turkey makes sense if it effectively reduces the inflow of refugees.

"Concessions will only be justified when this goal is achieved."

Future proof?

So far in 2015, 710,000 irregular migrants have entered the EU compared with 282,000 for the whole of 2014, the bloc's border agency Frontex said on Tuesday.

In his letter, Mr Tusk warned that the regional situation was "difficult and politically very complex.

"Just to give one example, Turkey is calling on us to support the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria, whereas Russia - increasingly engaged in Syria - is openly rejecting this idea."

He went on: "We must ask ourselves if the decisions we have taken so far, and the ones we are going to take on Thursday, are sufficient to contain a new migratory wave" - a wave, he warned, that could mean millions of new arrivals in the spring.