A highly contested EU deal with Turkey may not be ideal, but it is the only solution to stem the migration crisis, the bloc's Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said Thursday.
The deal in which Turkey agrees to take back certain migrants fleeing to Greece in exchange for visa-free travel in the EU has angered member countries and rights activists.
“I know this deal remains controversial. I would like to say that there is no solution without Turkey. There is no other solution than having a deal with Turkey,” Stylianides said in Paris.
“We need them, they need us, that is all.”
The EU commissioner appeared in front of the French Senate where lawmakers expressed “critical doubts” about the dangers posed to the 28-member bloc which is facing the worst migration crisis in its history.
He was grilled with questions over the Turkey deal after a week in which Ankara threatened to ditch its side of the bargain if the EU failed to keep its word on the visa deal.
Stylianides described the threat as “unfortunate.”
The accord is awash with legal and moral concerns, and critics have accused the EU of sacrificing its values and overlooking Turkey's growing crackdown on free speech in order to secure the deal.
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Saturday that the EU had “sold out to Turkey” and the consequences were “impossible to predict”.
The EU struck the deal with Turkey to send back all “irregular” migrants which arrive in Greece after March 20.
Two sets of deportations expelling 325 migrants from Greece took place three weeks ago, and another 49 were sent back Tuesday.
Stylianides said that despite the differences between the EU and Ankara, “without Turkey there is no solution.”
“It is not ideal, definitely, it is a very big challenge for all of us, we had very tough negotiations.”
He said Turkey had already completed 50 percent of the 72 conditions for visa-free travel.
“We cannot reduce our benchmarks for anyone, but at the same time we have to promote this deal.”
He hailed the drop in refugee arrivals from 1,667 on March 20 to a few dozen a day.
“Unfortunately the refugees will keep wanting to flee conflict zones.
“We must realise this is a defining question for Europe. The manner in which we react will determine how history will evaluate our actions.”