Turkey must resume the return of irregular migrants from Greece “without delay,” the European Commission’s enlargement chief, Oliver Varhelyi, said on Tuesday.
“It is important for Turkey to resume returns of irregular migrants from Greece to Turkey without delay, and avoid the opening of alternative routes as well as to further reduce arrivals of irregular migrants to Cyprus,” he told lawmakers at the European Parliament during a debate on “2019-2020 Progress reports on Turkey.”
Varhelyi said cooperation with Ankara has allowed irregular migration flows to “fall significantly” in recent years. The EU-Turkey statement remains “the key framework” for cooperation in this area.
He also said that the EU recognizes “the immense burden shouldered by Turkey in hosting the largest refugee population in the world. In this context, the Commission will soon propose options for continuing the EU support provided under the Facility for Refugees.”
The Commissioner also spoke about Turkey’s foreign policy, which “increasingly collided with EU priorities, continued to complicate EU-Turkey relations as well as Turkey’s relations with individual member states.”
“As a result, EU-Turkey relations reached a very low point last year,” he continued.
However, in recent months there has been a de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean, the resumption of bilateral talks between Greece and Turkey and of the informal talks on the Cyprus problem in Geneva.
“These are welcome facts, which need to be sustained and enhanced along with Turkey’s constructive engagement with the EU and all its member states. But this de-escalation on the foreign policy front has not been accompanied by a positive momentum when it comes to domestic reforms,” he added.
The EU, he said, has a “strategic interest” in the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey.