We owe it to Turkish people to end visa requirement, EU minister says
HELSINKI – Anadolu Agency
AA photoTurkey's government owes the lifting of visas to Schengen Zone members to its people, Turkish EU Minister Volkan Bozkır has said.
“The AK Party [Justice and Development Party] government will ensure the lifting of the visa [requirement]. This is our debt to our people, and we really want to make this happen,” he said March 24 in an interview with Anadolu Agency in Helsinki.
Bozkır also said that although opposition parties promised to support legislative changes needed to secure the visa-free travel goal, the government has not “yet seen that support.”
The prospective visa-free travel deal is part of a deal with the European Union to prevent the continued flow of refugees to the European Union via Turkey.
“We started keeping track of those [refugees] who reached [the Greek islands] on March 20. Our colleagues in the Turkey Migration Authority are there and they are registering them. We will receive migrants according to that registry,” Bozkır said.
Under the deal, all refugees and migrants arriving in Europe via Greece after March 20 will be returned to Turkey after individual assessments that are conducted in full compliance with international law.
In return, the EU will be expected to resettle an equal number of Syrian refugees already in Turkish camps starting on April 4.
On the conditions of refugees staying in Turkey, Bozkır said Turkey had not heard any criticism. “On the contrary, they said the conditions are extremely good and they always say that humanity owes Turkey its gratitude.”
The EU has also agreed to accelerate Turkey’s accession process by opening Chapter 33 on Financial and Budgetary provisions by June 30.
Turkey is hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees in the world and has spent more than 7 billion euros (US$7.7 billion) meeting their needs, according to European Commission figures released last year.
Ankara has also requested visa-free travel for its citizens by the end of June, accelerated accession talks, and an additional 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to meet the needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey.
The EU has agreed to accelerate the disbursement of the 3 billion euros already pledged to meet the needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey and identify a list of concrete projects for the funds.
Over the past year, hundreds of thousands of refugees have crossed the Aegean Sea to reach Greece. This has placed a huge strain on the austerity-hit EU member and threatened the EU’s internal open-border system, as countries to the north of Greece impose frontier restrictions.
While in Helsinki, Bozkır also met with the Union of European Turkish Democrats’ (UETD) Finnish branch to brief them on the recent Turkey-EU deal and learn about their activities.