Turkey, Greece to closely cooperate against illegal migration on Aegean

MERVE AYDOĞAN @mgulaydogan
ANKARA
Published

A senior part of the EU-migrant deal will involve close cooperation between Greece and Turkey. The statements came following the recent summit between Turkey and the European Union in Brussels where Turkey presented proposals to the EU as part of the deal to address the ongoing refugee crisis. Underlining the importance to Turkey that the agreement is in line with international laws, the official, who wished to remain anonymous, said that for every refugee Turkey takes from Greece, the EU would accept a similar number of refugees. Cooperation between Greece and Turkey also includes stopping illegal migrants from going to five Greek islands. He added that illegal migration from the Aegean Sea has dropped significantly and that the number in October 2015 was 6,800 compared to 2,000 in February 2016.

Providing details on the proposals Turkey gave to the EU during the summit, the senior official from the Foreign Ministry emphasized that if the EU agrees to the proposals then the actual cooperation would be between Turkey and Greece. "It is important for Turkey that the cooperation is in line with international laws. It will be a temporary practice, and we will sign a declaration with the Greek side. However this declaration will not be related to the readmission agreement," he said. Continuing by explaining the details of cooperation between Turkey and Greece, he said that the first phase would include eliminating all illegal migrants on the five Greek islands. "Once the agreement is signed, Turkey will take those refugees from the islands, placing them in refugee camps, and those who were on the islands prior to the agreement will be taken in by Greece. Migrants on the Greek islands after the agreement are to be taken by Turkey, while third country refugees will be sent back to their counties," he said. Third country refugees include people from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. The official further stated that the implementation methods and the timeline of the project will be decided between Turkey and Greece, as the entire project, if agreed upon, would be funded through the EU.Underlining that United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) criteria will be applied when taking in refugees, the senior official underlined that there will not be a "choose-and-pick" policy based on the refugee's occupation or skills. Commenting on Turkey's plan B in case the EU does not agree to the proposals, he stressed that Turkey will not change its approach on the issue and will conduct further enhanced search and rescue activities throughout the Aegean Sea.

Further commenting on the visa liberalization process between Turkey and the EU, he stated that Turkish citizens would need to renew their passports in accordance with the new requirements once visa liberalization is approved. However, he underlined that current passports can still be used, but people will not be entitled to visa liberalization if it is not renewed. The EU requested Turkey fulfill 72 criteria to achieve visa liberalization. The official claimed that Turkey has fulfilled the most significant 19 criteria, while the number of criteria that Turkey is far from fulfilling has dropped from 10 to three. Those three criteria include the protection of personal data under EU standards, an operational cooperation agreement with Europol and applying a non-discriminatory visa policy to EU member counties. The senior official finished his remarks by noting that once the new bills pass and international agreements are approved, the most important parts of the 72 criteria will soon be fulfilled.

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