European leaders will push Turkey at a summit today to agree to “large-scale” deportations of economic migrants from Greece which is bracing for a fresh surge of migrant and refugee arrivals by the end of March.
The European Union’s 28 leaders are hoping for new commitments from Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at their talks in Brussels in order to curb the chaos on the west Balkans route that begins in overstretched Greece.
The EU will also push Ankara to drastically reduce the huge flow of migrants into Europe, as Turkey is the launch pad for most of the more than one million refugees and migrants who have come to the continent since early 2015.
On Saturday, European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramapoulos said that Greece – already struggling with a build-up of 30,000 migrants – was expected to receive “another 100,000” by the end of March.
EU leaders will also try to increase aid for Greece which has seen non-EU Macedonia and EU countries on the Balkans route tighten their borders, stranding asylum-seekers desperate to head northward to wealthy Germany and Scandinavia.
Macedonia allowed just 240 people to cross the border with Greece between Saturday and early yesterday morning, Greek frontier police said.
Meanwhile, there are already over 5,000 refugees and migrants waiting to cross to the Greek mainland from the Aegean islands facing Turkey, Greece’s state agency ANA reported yesterday.
Donald Tusk, the European Council president and summit host, said in his invitation letter that success depended largely on securing Turkey’s agreement at the summit for the “large-scale” readmission from Greece of economic migrants who do not qualify as refugees.
Syrians, who top the influx of people into Europe, are considered genuine refugees requiring admission under international law.
Brussels has meanwhile unveiled a plan for saving the passport-free Schengen zone, which has been jeopardised by several countries closing their borders to stop the huge influx of people.
“For the first time since the beginning of the migration crisis, I can see a European consensus emerging,” Tusk said in his letter.
Following their lunch with Davutoglu in Brussels, EU leaders are to meet by themselves.
The EU said that Turkey has made progress toward implementing a co-operation-for-aid deal clinched in November but added that too many people were still heading from Turkey to Greece, the main entry point to Europe.
The European Commission, the EU executive body, said in a report that the daily average of irregular arrivals in February amounted to just under 2,000, which is “high” for a winter month.
In the report to EU summit participants, the commission said encouragingly that Ankara on February 26 approved 859 readmission requests from Greece.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, which currently holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, told reporters that he hoped Turkey would agree today “to accelerate readmission of third country nationals and economic migrants”.
Rutte added: “I think that would be the minimum outcome.”
The commission report urged Ankara to “swiftly negotiate and conclude readmission agreements with the relevant third countries”, which would then take back economic migrants from Turkey.
In return, Rutte said, Europe could implement a more “ambitious” plan to resettle refugees directly from camps in Turkey, which hosts 2.7mn Syrians.
Under the action plan, the EU will give Turkey €3bn ($3.3bn) to aid refugees on its territory and Turkey will crack down on people smugglers.
In its report, the commission urged Turkey to “take decisive action against migrant smuggling” by stepping up police work, coast guard patrols and co-operation with Nato.
Turkey on Wednesday denied claims it was blocking Nato vessels deployed in the Aegean Sea from launching a new anti-smuggling mission.
Under their deal, Turkey expects to accelerate its bid for EU membership and see Brussels ease visa requirements for Turks visiting the Schengen area.
Lingering tensions between Brussels and Ankara flared when Turkish police seized an opposition newspaper at the weekend and Brussels warned Ankara it had to respect media freedom in its decade-long bid for EU membership (see report on page 18).
EU leaders will press member states anew to relieve the pressure on Greece by following through on commitments to take in asylum seekers stranded there.
Since adopting a scheme last September to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers from frontline states Greece and Italy, European Union countries have taken in just over 600 people.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany – which has by far admitted the most asylum-seekers in Europe – said that Greece should have been quicker to provide lodgings to host 50,000 people under an agreement with the EU in October.
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