EU leaders agree to plan to stem flow of migrants
Brussels – — After months of acrimony, the European Union and Turkey reached a landmark deal on Friday to ease the migrant crisis and give Ankara concessions on better EU relations.
In a final meeting high on smiles, handshakes and backslapping, the 28 EU leaders and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sealed an agreement that will allow thousands of migrants to be sent back to Turkey as of Sunday, while Ankara will see fast-track procedures to get billions in aid to deal with Syrian refugees, unprecedented visa concessions for Turks to come to Europe and a re-energizing of its EU membership bid.
Davutoglu strode into the final joint session of a summit in Brussels with the poise of a winner, happily shaking hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and getting an encouraging pat on the back from French President Francois Hollande.
“Today, we have finally reached an agreement,” EU Council President Donald Tusk, who chaired the summit, told reporters. “All irregular migrants coming from Turkey into Greek islands from this Sunday, March 20, will be returned to Turkey.”
Davutoglu, whose country is home to almost 3 million Syria refugees, proclaimed the agreement a momentous occasion.
“This is a historic day,” he said. “We today realized that Turkey and the EU have the same destiny, the same challenges, and the same future.”
For the EU, the deal brought some closure to months of bitter infighting over how to deal with the refugee emergency by essentially outsourcing the problem to Turkey.
With more than 1 million migrants arriving in Europe over the past year, EU leaders were desperate to clinch a deal with Turkey and heal deep rifts within the bloc, while relieving the pressure on Greece, which has borne the brunt of arrivals.
The agreement would have clear commitments that the rights of legitimate refugees would be respected and treated according to international and EU law. Within a week, Turkish and EU officials would assess joint projects to help Syrian refugees in Turkey, after complaints that promised aid of 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) was too slow in coming.
Turkey has also been guaranteed that EU accession talks on budgetary issues could start before the summer.
The conditions in Greece and the Idomeni camp were called intolerable by the Greek government on Friday. Interior Minister Panagiotis Kouroumplis compared the crowded tent city to a Nazi concentration camp, blaming the suffering on some European countries’ closed border policies.
During a visit to Idomeni Friday, Kouroumplis said the situation was a result of closed borders by countries that refused to accept refugees.
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