After meeting with the Turkish government, European Council President Donald Tusk has agreed a deal which aims to stop “the flow of irregular migration via Turkey to Europe”.
In a statement, Tusk explained that the Turkey-EU deal ensures the mutual “commitment” to the “joint action plan activated on 29th November 2015,” adding that “much progress has been achieved already”.
In a bid to remove “the incentive to seek irregular routes to the EU” from Turkey, one of the most significant aspects of the agreement is the policy of returning “all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands” from the 20th March 2016.
After the implementation date, for every Syrian migrant being returned to Turkey, another will “be resettled to the EU.” All of the costs of returning migrants will “be covered by the EU”.
Turkey will additionally be required to “take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes” being created by its migrant populations. Once the numbers of new crossings have been “substantially reduced”, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission scheme will come into effect, allowing EU member states to elect to rehome migrants living in Turkey.
In order to aid with the enormous costs incurred by Turkey “opening its labour market to Syrians” and supporting an estimated population of 2.5 million Syrian migrants, the EU will expedite the dispersal of €3 billion to Turkey. Funds supplied via the Facility for Refugees in Turkey is allocated for “concrete projects and work” which will alleviate the strain on both migrants and the government. Up until the end of 2018, a further €3 billion will be made available once the first round of funds have been “used in full”.
Tusk said that while “some may think this agreement is a silver bullet” which will draw to a close Europe’s migration crisis, it is actually “just one pillar of the European Union’s comprehensive strategy” which will only succeed in conjunction with a process of “strengthening the EU’s external borders, keeping the Western Balkans’ route closed and getting back to Schengen”.
However, many have voiced concerns that the deal is a precursor to Turkey’s admission to the EU, especially drawing attention to the offer of visa-free travel within the Schengen area for Turkey’s population of 70 million people from next October.
Many EU officials have approached the deal with mixed feelings given the long term prospect of the EU’s relationship with Turkey, with even the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, saying in the German paper Handelsblatt that “Turkey is currently not ready for accession”, and that they still won’t be ready “in 10 years either”.