The EU Council president, Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, spoke yesterday of the importance of the migrant issue in relations between Turkey and the European Union during his visit to Turkey's southeastern province of Gaziantep.
"The migrant issue represents an important dimension in relations between Turkey and the EU. My visit's purpose is to observe this right at the place," Ratas said responding to reporters' questions during his visit to Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Fatma Şahin.
Ratas, who said he was last in Turkey in the 1990s, added that Turkey also had strong bilateral relations with Estonia. During the visit, Şahin reiterated that Turkey has taken in more than 3 million refugees, and that Gaziantep is home to about 400,000 of them. Şahin added that Ratas's visit to Gaziantep will help the issue of refugees be better understood and make it easier to find more effective solutions.
Championing international efforts for refugees, Turkey has spent more than $25 billion for the wellbeing of refugees, and Ankara criticizes other countries for spending less on humanitarian aid for Syrians and the low number of admissions granted by European countries for refugees and migrants.
Turkey and the EU signed a refugee deal in March 2016, which aimed to discourage irregular migration over the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of the nearly 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Since then, the number of refugees illegally crossing the Aegean between Turkey and Greece has dropped by 85 percent, according to the Turkish Coast Guard. Also as part of the deal, the EU said it would open two new chapters in Ankara's EU accession negotiations, provide funding for refugees and grant visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the Schengen zone. The 28-nation bloc, however, has failed to fully hold up its part of the deal thus far.