EU envoy: 3B euros contracted, bound for refugees in Turkey

YUNUS PAKSOY @yunuspaksoy

The head of the European Union Delegation in Turkey, Ambassador Christian Berger, announced yesterday that the 3 billion euros promised to Ankara in a March 2016 deal for refugees in the country has now been fully contracted and legally bound.

"We have fully contracted and legally bound the 3 billion euros we promised in 2016 with the latest contract that we signed yesterday," Berger said, speaking to a group of journalists in Ankara.

Explaining that the EU has selected 72 projects for refugees in Turkey, Berger said the EU has been carrying out these projects with Turkish ministries, the United Nations, the Turkish Red Crescent, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and other institutions.

"The financial aid program for refugees has two components," he said, adding that 1.4 billion euros have been allocated for basic humanitarian needs such as food, clothes and health. Concerning the promised financial aid – another 3 billion euros – that will be provided to refugees in Turkey, Berger said that the March 2016 deal between Ankara and Brussels envisaged that the issue will be discussed once the first 3 billion euros has been spent.

"We are at that stage now," he said. "With the money being contracted, now is the moment. We are now in the process of discussing with all the member states about what will happen next. It will be evaluated. This discussion is happening." Turkey and the EU signed a refugee deal in March 2016 to discourage irregular migration via the Aegean Sea, taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of more than 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. The deal included an aid package of 6 billion euros to help Ankara assist the millions of refugees in the country. Ankara says it has spent more than 20 billion euros from its own resources to help and shelter refugees since the Syrian civil war began.

11,500 REFUGEES RESETTLED FROM TURKEY IN EUROPEDrawing attention to the one-for-one deal between Turkey and the EU as part of the March 2016 deal, Berger said that 11,500 refugees from Turkey have so far been resettled in EU member states. The one-for-one formula is the mechanism of returning failed asylum seekers in Europe to Turkey, while Syrian refugees are resettled in EU states under a quota system. Berger said that around 1,500 illegal migrants have been sent to Turkey. Recently, a European Commission report said that only 15 percent of Syrian refugees had been resettled from Turkey to EU countries under the resettlement agreement. Despite the report claiming that "resettlements are continuing at a steady pace," only 11,354 had been resettled as of November 2017. Under the deal, the EU had pledged to admit 72,000 Syrian refugees who live in Turkey.

Approval of member states pending for customs union upgrade

A green light from all European Union member states is still pending on the customs union update, Berger added. He said that the issue was brought to agenda at the request of both sides, but approval of from member states is still lacking.

"The issue of updating the customs union with the request and demand of both sides came to the agenda. There is a draft in this framework. We are waiting for member states to present a task in this regard to the European Commission for the time being," he said.

Berger added that negotiations will be kick started once this task has been given to the commission. The process has recently been locked in a stalemate after relations between Turkey and Germany hit rock bottom.

The German government and opposition have been reiterating for a while now that updating the customs union is a no-go for Berlin as long as relations stand as they are now with Ankara.

When asked about German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel's statement earlier this week that Brussels should seek new ways of dealing with Ankara such as the Brexit deal, Berger said that there have been and will be proposals and propositions.

"Turkey is currently a candidate country and remains so for the EU delegation. … It is not a suggestion that could replace Turkey's candidacy," he said.

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