Number of Syrian refugees in Turkey will not rise after EU deal, says PM
(From L) Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, EU Council President Donald Tusk and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker shake hands at the end of an EU summit in Brussels. AFP photo EU leaders and Turkey's prime minister approved a controversial deal to curb the huge flow of asylum seekers to Europe, with all migrants arrivingThe number of Syrian refugees in Turkey will not increase after the long-awaited deal finally agreed upon by Turkey and the EU goes into effect, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said.
Speaking to journalists on the way from to Istanbul from Brussels, where Turkey and the EU reached an agreement on the proposed migrant exchange scheme in exchange for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and the opening up of negotiations chapters, Davutoğlu said the deal did not mean Turkey would get back refugees from Europe.
“The number of refugees in Turkey will not increase,” said Davutoğlu. “We will not receive refugees from Europe. [The refugees] that go [to the EU] as of March 20, are within the context [of the deal],” he added on March 19.
Davutoğlu said Turkey had chosen to take its relations with the EU to a “new level” against the backdrop of the refugee crisis.
Davutoğlu’s remarks came one day after the EU and Turkey struck a deal in Brussels to return migrants to Turkey who have illegally crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece.
According to the deal, Turkey is set to begin taking back migrants as of March 20, and for every migrant Turkey takes back, the EU is set to take one migrant from Turkey, in an effort to reduce the illegal crossings, which has caused the deaths of around 4,000 migrants since the beginning of 2015.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Turkey would start to receive refugees from Greece in two weeks’ time.
“Turkey will start to receive refugees [from Greece] two weeks from now. And in line with the deal, the EU will take the same number of refugees from Turkey the same day,” Çavuşoğlu was quoted as saying by state-run Anadolu Agency on March 19, during a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif.
Çavuşoğlu said Turkey would not accept objections from any European country over the refugee deal, which also enables the opening of a new chapter in Turkey’s accession process in exchange for it taking back refugees.
“But objections from any European country aren’t Turkey’s concern,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Greek government said that they would not be able to start sending refugees back to Turkey on March 20.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told his ministers on March 19 to be ready to begin deporting people the following day, as agreed, but officials said afterwards they needed more time to prepare.
“The agreement to send back new arrivals on the islands should, according to the text, enter into force on March 20,” the government coordinator for migration policy (migration coordination agency) spokesman Giorgos Kyritsis told AFP.
“But a plan like this cannot be put in place in only 24 hours.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a key backer of the scheme, said that migrants would likely start being returned to Turkey on April 4.
Hours before the deal was sealed, a Turkish official speaking on condition of anonymity told private broadcaster CNN Türk that Turkey was set to begin taking back illegal migrants crossing into Greece as of March 20, with the returns starting as of April 4.
Around 1,500 people crossed the Aegean to reach Greece’s islands on March 18 before the deal was brought in, officials said - more than double the day before and compared to several hundred a day earlier this week.
Also as part of the deal, the EU will open chapter 33 on budget policy and accelerate preparations for negotiations in other areas.
An additional 3 billion euros will be granted to Turkey until the end of 2018 in order to increase the living standards of Syrian refugees in the country.
If Turkey fulfills its obligations until the end of April, Turkish citizens will be granted visa-free travel inside the EU as of July, according to the deal.
“We will finalize the remaining 35 criteria on May 1 for visa liberalization,” said Davutoğlu.