The European Union agreed in a deal with Turkey on Friday to stop illegal migration flow to Europe in order to obtain financial and political rewards for Ankara.
The deal consisted of closing the principal route that allowed millions of migrants and refugees move across the Aegean sea to Greece before marching north to Germany and Sweden in the last year. But deep doubts remain about whether it is legal or workable.
“Agreement with Turkey approved. All illegal migrants who arrive to Greece from Turkey starting March 20 will be returned!” Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka tweeted from inside the meeting.
A senior EU official said Davutoglu had indicated Ankara would accept the proposal if the EU leaders approved it.
Under the pact, Ankara would take back all illegal migrants who cross to Greece, including Syrians, in return for the EU taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and rewarding it with more money, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.
Any migrant who arrives in Greece will be immediately sent back to Turkey once their Asylum claim is processed. Both return and settlement of Syrians will begin on April 4, and will be performed simultaneously.
The EU also agreed to accelerate disbursement of 3 billion euros already pledged in support for refugees in Turkey and to provide a further 3 billion euros by 2018 once Ankara came up with a list of projects that qualified for EU assistance.
Troubles between Turkey and Europe
While the talks were in progress, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused the EU of hypocrisy over migrants, human rights and terrorism after supporters of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) set up protest tents near the summit venue.
Erdogan said Europe was “dancing in a minefield” by directly or indirectly supporting terrorist groups.
“At a time when Turkey is hosting three million, those who are unable to find space for a handful of refugees, who in the middle of Europe keep these innocents in shameful conditions, must first look at themselves,” he said in a televised speech.
Facing a backlash from anti-immigration populists across Europe, the EU is desperate to stem the influx but faced legal obstacles to blanket returns of migrants to Turkey.
The summit discussions exposed considerable doubts among member states and EU lawyers over whether a deal could be made legal under international law, and human rights groups denounced the planned agreement as a sell-out of European principles.
The EU leaders pressed Ankara to change its rules to extend international standards of protection to non-Syrian migrants, a condition for Greece to be able legally to return asylum seekers to Turkey.
“All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands from March 20, 2016, will be returned to Turkey,” the draft joint EU-Turkey statement seen by Reuters said. “This will take place in full accordance with EU and international law, thus excluding any kind of collective expulsion.”
It did not say whether this would entail changes in Turkish legislation.