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EU-Turkey migrant deal hailed as big step

The EU-Turkey accord reached on Friday aims to close the main route by which a million migrants and refugees

Published: Updated:

The United States on Friday called an agreement reached between the European Union and Turkey aimed at halting illegal migration an important step, and Washington said it was ready to increase support to countries affected by the flow of refugees.

“We commend language in the agreement affirming that all refugees deserve access to protection and which makes clear the agreement will be implemented in full accordance with EU and international law,” the State Department said in a statement.

The EU-Turkey accord reached on Friday aims to close the main route by which a million migrants and refugees, many of them from war-torn Syria, poured across the Aegean Sea to Greece in the last year before marching north to Europe.

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.

(With AFP)