NEWS

Greek PM expresses optimism over progress of EU-Turkey refugee talks

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras expressed optimism over the progress of talks at a summit in Brussels on Monday between European Union member states and Turkey on steps to manage the inflow of thousands of refugees and migrants into the bloc.

“At today’s summit, we had a significant shift in the framework of talks, something that I consider extremely significant,” Tsipras said in statements to the press after the meeting was adjourned late on Monday, following a surprise proposal from Turkey to take back refugees and migrants from Greece in exchange for more aid.

“Today, the discussion focused on how we could find a real solution to stemming the inflows from Turkey, with Turkey’s cooperation,” the Greek prime minister said. “It is true that Turkey came to the summit with some tempting proposals, surprising many… These proposals, of course, included in their terms some exchanges that could not possibly be decided today because not all member states were prepared and because some of them may seem excessive and need to be re-examined.”

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu asked for an additional 3 billion euros in aid and visa-free travel for Turks to the bloc by June in exchange for taking back all illegal migrants landing on the overstretched Greek islands. He also suggested a one-for-one deal under which the EU would resettle one Syrian refugee from camps in Turkey in exchange for every Syrian that Turkey takes from Greece.

Europe’s leaders “warmly welcomed” Turkey’s proposals, with EU president Donald Tusk saying he would now work on the legal details to reach a final deal at a European summit in Brussels on March 17-18.

“What concerns us is how we can come to an essential understanding with Turkey to put a stop to this daily tragedy of smugglers reigning over the Aegean and people… being lost at sea,” the Greek prime minister said.