NEWS

Turkey pours cold water on EU migrant plan

turkey-pours-cold-water-on-eu-migrant-plan

The EUs much-hyped deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants looked shaky on Friday after Ankara said Brussels had offered too little money and mocked Europe’s efforts to tackle the refugee crisis.

Just hours after the European Union announced the accord with great fanfare at a leaders’ summit, Ankara said the plan to cope with a crisis that has seen some 600,000 mostly Syrian migrants enter the EU this year was just a draft.

Cracks in the deal emerged as Bulgaria’s president apologised after an Afghan refugee was shot dead crossing the border from Turkey.

In the latest in a series of jabs at Europe over the crisis, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ridiculed the bloc’s efforts to help Syrian refugees and challenged it to take Ankaras bid for EU membership more seriously.

"They announce they’ll take in 30,000 to 40,000 refugees and then they are nominated for the Nobel for that. We are hosting two and a half million refugees but nobody cares," said Erdogan.

Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu then slammed an offer of financial help made by top European Commission officials during a visit on Wednesday, saying his country needed at least 3 billion euros ($3.4 bn) in the first year of the deal.

"There is a financial package proposed by the EU and we told them it is unacceptable," Sinirlioglu told reporters, adding that the action plan is "not final" and merely "a draft on which we are working."

Under the tentative agreement, Turkey had agreed to tackle people smugglers, cooperate with EU border authorities and put a brake on refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict from crossing by sea to Europe.

In exchange, European leaders agreed to speed up easing visa restrictions on Turkish citizens travelling to Europe and give Ankara more funds to tackle the problem, although it did not specify how much.

As he announced the agreement on Thursday night, European Council President Donald Tusk had hailed the pact as a "major step forward" but warned that it "only makes sense if it effectively contains the flow of refugees."

European officials said they were still waiting for concrete steps from Turkey and said that the three billion euros demanded by Ankara would be a problem for the EUs 28 member states.

Even as the summit was underway, the volatile situation on the EUs frontier with Turkey exploded into violence with the fatal Bulgarian border shooting, which the UN refugee agency said was the first of its kind.

The victim was among a group of 54 migrants spotted by a patrol near the southeastern town of Sredets close to the Turkish border and was wounded by a ricochet after border guards fired warning shots into the air, officials said.

The migrants were not armed but they did not obey a police order to stop and put up resistance, they said.

Bulgarian president Rosen Plevneliev said he "deeply regrets" the shooting but said it showed the need for "rapid common European measures to tackle the roots of the crisis."

The death adds to the toll of over 3,000 migrants who have died while trying to get to Europe this year, most of them drowning in the Mediterranean while trying to sail across in rubber dinghies or flimsy boats.

As well as the tensions with Turkey, the crisis has also opened up rifts in the European Union itself.

Hungary said it would close its border with Croatia at 2200 GMT on Friday to stem the flow of tens of thousands of migrants, blaming the EU summit’s failure to push for a bloc-wide frontier guard system.

Last month Hungary sealed its border with non-EU Serbia – until then the main crossing point for migrants making their way up from Greece through the Balkans – with razor wire and fences.

"After no decision was reached at the EU summit on Thursday on using common EU forces to defend Greeces external border… Hungary has decided to put into operation its border closure," said foreign minister Peter Szijjarto.

Plans for a pan-EU border guard system have run into trouble amid concerns in some states about the sovereignty of their frontiers if foreign guards are posted at them.

The crisis has sparked fears that the EUs passport-free Schengen zone, one of the bloc’s most cherished achievements, could collapse as countries try to curb the huge numbers of migrants crossing borders within the Schengen area.

Most are trying to get to Germany, Europes economic powerhouse, which has said it expects up to one million asylum seekers this year after saying it would open its doors to Syrian refugees. [AFP]