“We want to prevent waves of refugees, and tragic events in the Aegean Sea,” said prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, following a summit with 28 EU heads of states in Brussels, which had to be extended into the early evening. Hours earlier, 25 migrants drowned off the Turkish coast, en-route to Greece. “With these new proposals, we aim to rescue refugees, discourage those who misuse and exploit their situation, and find a new era in Turkey-EU relations.”
On Monday morning, the Turkish politician promised “game-changing ideas” as he headed into the meeting with European leaders keen to close the Balkan route used by more than 800,000 migrants to enter the continent last year.
The joint draft produced by the end of the session lived up to his pledge.
According to document, published by Reuters, “for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU member states.”
Last week, Turkey promised to take back failed asylum seekers from Europe if they had passed through its territory, but the new initiative presents a considerable logistical challenge. A strengthened EU force would have to scour the Greek islands and deport refugees – despite the objections of human rights organizations – while another in Turkey would have to process claims before sending them on to Europe.
NATO’s fleet will provide the muscle for the operation.
“NATO is starting activities in [Greek and Turkish] territorial waters today. We are expanding our cooperation with the EU’s border agency Frontex, and we are expanding the number of ships in our deployment,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, as he stood next to Davutoglu at the final press conference. France and Britain have pledged new vessels for the fleet.
The EU said it would offer Turkey €3 billion between now and 2018, in addition to the €3 billion it had already promised to implement the scheme last year. It would also offer Turkish citizens visa-free travel through the Schengen area, starting from June, as opposed to tentatively reviewing the possibility in October.
“Turkey are offering more and demanding more,” said one senior diplomat to Reuters, as European officials publicly insisted that the issues of migrants and EU integration remain separate.
After presenting the interim proposal – which will be subject to political and likely, legal challenges – the politicians returned to the negotiating table for another round of talks, which are scheduled to wrap up on Monday night.