EU to press Turkey on refugee deal amid mounting concern

Little progress made on €3 billion aid for Ankara in exchange for tackling migrant crisis

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel has strongly advocated engagement with Turkey as a way of tackling the migration crisis, but her officials are increasingly frustrated with the pace of implantation of the joint action plan.   Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel has strongly advocated engagement with Turkey as a way of tackling the migration crisis, but her officials are increasingly frustrated with the pace of implantation of the joint action plan. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

 

Senior EU officials will travel to Ankara on Sunday for official talks amid mounting concern in Brussels and Berlin over Turkey’s lack of progress in reducing the number of migrants entering the European Union.

EU leaders backed a controversial agreement with Turkey in November that will see the European Commission and EU member states offer €3 billion in aid to Ankara in exchange for help in tackling the refugee crisis.

However, EU officials are concerned that there has been no substantive decrease in the number of migrants leaving Turkey for Europe since the deal was agreed.

The bodies of at least 34 migrants were found washed up on the Turkish coastline on Tuesday, including seven children.

Figures from the UNHCR show that 3,333 migrants on average arrived in Greece every day in December. This is a drop on previous months, but it is not being attributed to any action by the Turkish authorities, according to EU officials, who said a decrease had already been expected due to weather conditions.

Meanwhile, countries further north along the migrant trail continue to feel the effect of the biggest migratory flow into Europe since the foundation of the EU.

A senior German official this week said that 3,200 migrants from Turkey are entering Germany every day. This week Sweden and Denmark became the latest EU countries to introduce border controls as they struggle to cope with the numbers of migrants seeking asylum.

Concern at numbers

Timmermans

“We are a long way from being satisfied,” he said. “Of course we need to do more . . . the only benchmark, of course, are the figures going down. We are all committed as part of the joint action to bring the numbers substantially down, and it is quite clear that over the last few weeks the figures have remained relatively high. “

Mr Timmermans, who as vice-president of the European Commission has led its negotiations with Ankara, will discuss the situation with Turkish authorities on Monday.

German frustration

Angela Merkel

Turkey is by far the largest transit country for refugees entering the EU from neighbouring Syria. It has also become home to about two million Syrian refugees.

EU officials said they expect discussion on Monday about which specific projects in Turkey would be funded by the fresh EU funding.

However, there is still no final agreement between member states about how the €3 billion will be funded, though about €1 billion is expected to come from the commission through the EU budget.

As well as €3 billion in aid, the EU has promised to speed up accession talks with Turkey and consider easing visa restrictions for Turkish citizens in exchange for help managing the refugee crisis, including clamping down on people smugglers.

Launching the Netherlands’ six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union in Amsterdam on Thursday, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte highlighted the refugee crisis as the biggest challenge facing the EU in the coming months.