Syrian refugees should not be used as bribe for visa-free travel, says EP

Syrian refugees should not be used as bribe for visa-free travel, says EP

Hülya Güler – ISTANBUL
Syrian refugees should not be used as bribe for visa-free travel, says EP Syrian refugees should not be used as a bribe for the process of visa liberalization for Turkish citizens inside the European Union, lawmakers from the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) have said. 

Speaking at a press conference, the head of the DROI committee visiting Turkey, MEP Marietje Schaake, said May 18 that it was not right that Syrian refugees were being used as a bribe to obtain visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. 

Schaake expressed the importance of the number of refugees Turkey hosts – which stands at around 3 million people – while adding that the Turkey-EU deal reached in mid-March had been rushed and most of the topics were not clearly outlined. 

Turkey has agreed to take back all irregular migrants reaching Greece as of March 20 in exchange for the EU granting visa-free travel to Turkish citizens, pledging to give a total of 6 million euros for the Syrian refugees in Turkey and accelerate negotiations for Turkey’s EU bid. 

Schaake, from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe-ALDE, headed the group visiting Ankara and Istanbul for a total of three days, accompanied by fellow MEPs Arne Lietz and Liliana Rodrigues, both from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament.

Their main focus was the human rights aspects of the EU-Turkey agreement, as well as the general rule of law situation in Turkey, including the conflict in the southeast, freedom of expression and of the media.

‘Not hopeful of realization of visa-free travel’

Stating that visa liberalization would only be possible with the fulfillment of the 72 criteria that both parties had agreed upon in 2013, Schaake said amendments to Turkey’s anti-terror law were among these criteria and “it is wrong that the [Turkish] leaders express it like it is a new demand by the EU.” 

“We are not hopeful of the realization of visa liberalization if changes to the anti-terror law are not made,” Schaake said during the press conference. 

Lietz said his observations regarding the issue were that Turkey would not make any amendments to the anti-terror law. 

On May 4, the European Commission advised the EP and European Council to put Turkey on the list of countries whose citizens are to be exempt from obtaining a visa while adding that Ankara urgently needed to fulfill the remaining five of the 72 criteria. Of the outstanding criteria, the change to Turkey’s anti-terror law has been the most controversial, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refusing to make any changes to the law. 

Schaake also requested that European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who currently holds the EU presidency, demand guarantees from Turkey concerning the safeguarding of the rule of law, human rights and freedom of the press in the country. 

“The most pro-European citizens in Turkey are losing their confidence in the EU. They feel betrayed because European leaders do not criticize the deteriorating rule of law and human rights situation. This becomes even clearer now that the EU and Turkey made a deal about refugees. In addition, there are concerns about the way these refugees are being treated after the deal. There is a huge difference between agreements and laws in theory and in practice. Timmermans and Rutte have to demand more guarantees from the Turkish authorities,” she said.