Syrian refugees face return to Turkey under EU plan

German leader Angela Merkel says resettlement programme must clear obstacles

Syrian refugees arriving in Greece from tomorrow face being returned to Turkey under a radical new refugee plan agreed yesterday in Brussels.

But even as agreement was reached on a "one for one" resettlement programme, German chancellor Angela Merkel warned there were still legal challenges to be overcome.

“I have no illusions that what we agreed today will be accompanied by further setbacks. There are big legal challenges that we must now overcome,” the German chancellor said at the end of a two-day EU summit in Brussels.

Under the German-driven plan agreed by Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and EU leaders, migrants arriving in Greece from tomorrow will be sent back to Turkey through a system that will be introduced on a "phased basis", according to European Council president Donald Tusk.


In exchange, EU countries will begin accepting up to a maximum of 72,000 migrants from Turkey to EU countries under a voluntary resettlement plan.

Speaking after the summit, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there was a "massive logistical challenge ahead" and Ireland would consider sending personnel, including translators and asylum officers, to help.

The linchpin of the EU-Turkey deal, which was sketched out 10 days ago, is an ambitious programme which will see the EU resettle one Syrian refugee for every migrant returned to Turkey.

But human rights groups have criticised the plan. Oxfam accused the EU of “trading human beings for political concessions”.

Accession negotiations

Other key elements of the agreement include the commitment to reopen chapter 33 of Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU, which deals with budgetary and financial matters.

A commitment to lift visa requirements for Turkish citizens by the end of June, subject to Turkey fulfilling 72 already-agreed conditions, is also included. The agreement also doubles the EU’s financial pledges to Turkey to €6 billion.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent