Crumbling E.U.–Turkey Refugee Deal
The refugee deal agreed by the European Union and Turkey in March is faltering as both sides lock horns on a major negotiating term.
Turkey has threatened to walk away from the deal if its demand for visa-free travel to all E.U. member states is not met.
“The European Parliament will discuss the report that will open Europe visa-free for Turkish citizens. If the wrong decision is taken, we will send the refugees,” Burhan Kuzu, an adviser to President Erdogan, wrote on Twitter.
On Wednesday, Turkey refused to make amendments to its terror laws – a major requirement for visa-free travel approval. The E.U. requires Turkey to narrow its definition of the terms “terrorist” and “terrorist act” so that activists, dissenters and journalists could not run the risk of being labeled as such. Turkey’s European affairs minister, Volkan Bozkir, said the change was “completely impossible.”
Last week, the European Commission announced that visa-free tourist travel for Turkish nationals could be implemented as early as June as Turkey had only five criteria left to meet. However, earlier this week, the European Parliament put the legislation’s processing on pause. E.U. parliament chief Martin Schulz reportedly suspended the application because Turkey had not yet met all of the 72 necessary benchmarks for visa-free travel approval, Judith Sargentini, a Dutch Green MEP, told the E.U. Observer.
If the deal remains in effect, refugees who brave the dangerous sea route to Europe will be returned to Turkey if they are not able to apply successfully for asylum. In exchange, the E.U. has pledged $6.85 billion to help Turkey deal with the refugee crisis. The deal has already begun to slow the influx of refugees and migrants in Europe – roughly half the number of migrants arrived in March than the previous month, according to Europe’s border agency Frontex.
Europe Extends Border Controls
The E.U. decided on Thursday that it will allow five of the 28 members of the border-free Schengen area to keep their border controls up for the next six months.
Effective immediately, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway can keep their temporary border controls in place, in order to stem the flow of displaced people seeking refuge in Europe. Without this decision, the legal authorities to keep the border controls would have expired on Friday.
The members states should tell each other where the borders will be and the controls should be “targeted and limited in scope, frequency, location and time, to what is strictly necessary to respond to the serious threat and to safeguard public policy and internal security,” the E.U. said in a statement.
Living Conditions Increasingly Desperate in Greek Camps
The situation in Greece’s refugee camps is become increasingly desperate, with authorities no longer able to provide anything above the most basic living necessities, the Council of Europe, the E.U.’s human rights watchdog, said on Wednesday, calling conditions at migrant centers “substandard.”
“Some of the camps were seriously overcrowded,” the report said. “In these camps, living conditions were extreme and only basic needs were being catered for.”
Earlier this week, roughly a thousand refugees began a hunger strike at the Elliniko makeshift camp, 6 miles (10km) south of the Athens migrant center, protesting the insufficient healthcare and hygiene services. Several children in the camp have been hospitalized for abdominal cramps and severe diarrhea.
More than 800,000 displaced people reached Greece’s shores last year after fleeing war or poverty, but the country does not have the capability to cope with the influx. The special representative on migration and refugees of the Council of Europe’s secretary general, Tomas Bocek, urged the Council to mobilize resources to improve the situation immediately.
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