EU leaders approve migration deal with Turkey
The deal would exact a heavy price including an acceleration of Turkey’s long-stalled bid for EU membership
European Union leaders approved on Friday a migration deal with Turkey, Finland's Prime Minister Juha Sipila said on Twitter.
"The Turkey deal was approved," Sipila said.
European leaders agreed a common position to put to Turkey’s prime minister in a bid to clinch a vital deal to tackle an unprecedented wave of migrants and refugees that have fled to the continent.
The 28 states spent the day haggling over the proposal, under which Turkey would take all migrants from Greece to help curb Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II.
The deal would exact a heavy price including an acceleration of Turkey’s long-stalled bid for EU membership, billions of euros in extra aid and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals.
Critics have raised concerns that the “one-for-one” deal could also violate international law and pointed to Ankara’s human rights record.
“Agreement on EU position, @eucopresident will present it to Turkish Prime Minister before our EU Council tomorrow,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel tweeted, referring to European Council President Donald Tusk.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was a “good opportunity to stop the business of human traffickers” involved in an unprecedented influx of 1.2 million people from Syria and elsewhere since 2015.
Merkel however insisted on “preconditions” and clear plans to deal with the logistics of processing thousands of asylum seekers on the Greek islands and sending them back to Turkey.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said as he boarded a plane in Ankara that the proposed deal was “clear and honest” but added: “Turkey will never become an open prison for migrants.”
He is due to meet Tusk, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at 0730 GMT before EU leaders meet again for final consultations expected at 1200 GMT, EU officials said.
A senior EU official said Tusk had a “common position” to put the Turkish premier, adding that he had “understood everyone’s red lines” for the negotiations.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said it would be an “intense” day.
Following the migration deal, Turkey announced a total of 1,734 migrants and 16 people smugglers were detained by Turkish coastguard and gendarmerie in an operation on Friday, security forces said in a statement, part of a massive sweep to stop refugees reaching the Greek island of Lesbos.
The operation was launched near the town of Dikili, in Izmir province on Turkey's Aegean coast, and involved the coastguard, navy and gendarmerie and was backed by air support, the military said in a statement. Authorities were still working to ascertain the nationalities of those arrested, it said.
One major hurdle that appeared to have been overcome was opposition from Cyprus, rooted in long-standing tensions with Turkey over Ankara’s refusal to recognize its government on the divided island.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades indicated he could be ready to “compromise” on his objections to the EU, opening new “chapters” in Turkey’s accession process, after earlier threatening to block the entire deal.
The deal also envisages major aid for Greece, where tens of thousands of refugees are trapped in dire conditions after Balkan countries shut their borders to stop them heading north to richer Germany and Scandinavia.
Highlighting global attention on the issue, Hollywood star and UNHCR goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie on Thursday visited the island of Lesbos, the principal port of entry for migrants to Europe.
Meanwhile in the bleak camp of Idomeni on the Macedonian-Greek border, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei on Thursday had his hair cut by a migrant barber to draw attention to their plight.