NEWS

Hollande vows ‘no concessions’ to Turkey on rights, visas in migrant deal

hollande-vows-no-concessions-to-turkey-on-rights-visas-in-migrant-deal

French President Francois Hollande said Saturday that the EU must not grant Turkey any concessions on human rights or visas in exchange for guarantees to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

“There cannot be any concessions on the matter of human rights or the criteria for visa liberalization,” Hollande told reporters ahead of the resumption next week of tough negotiations between Turkey and the EU in Brussels.

Under a controversial draft deal reached this week, Turkey would take back all migrants landing in Greece in a bid to reduce their incentive to pay people smugglers for dangerous crossings to the Greek islands in rickety boats.

In return for every Syrian sent back from Greece, the EU would resettle one Syrian refugee from camps in Turkey – which is hosting about 2.7 million people who have fled the conflict across the border.

Turkey is also demanding 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in aid, visa-free access for its nationals within Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone and for swifter action to process its bid to join the EU.

The plan to expel migrants en masse from Greece has sparked international criticism, with the UN’s top officials on refugees and human rights questioning whether it would be legal.

Officials have also expressed concern over the potential need for compromise with Ankara, as fears grow over freedom of expression and rights abuses under the rule of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Hollande spoke after meeting in Paris on Saturday with more than a dozen social democrat leaders from the EU, including Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

Meanwhile, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov pressed on Saturday to have his country’s borders protected as part of a proposed EU-Turkey deal aimed to stop the flow of migrants to Europe.

Bulgaria has so far remained on the sidelines of the EU’s worst migration crisis since WWII after it built a 30-kilometer razor wire fence in 2014 and sent 2,000 border police to guard its 260-kilometer (160-mile) border with Turkey.

But the EU member fears that it could become a major transit hub after countries along the main western Balkan migrant trail shut their borders this week.

“All countries on the frontline should be able to rely on support from the EU for protection of the EU’s external borders,” Borisov told visiting Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner and Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil in Sofia.

Borisov said he had sent a letter to that effect to EU President Donald Tusk on Friday.

“Bulgaria insists that the talks between the EU and Turkey for solving the migration problem should also include Bulgaria’s land borders with Turkey and Greece as well as the Black Sea border between the EU and Turkey,” the letter read.

Under the agreement due to be finalized at an EU summit on March 17-18, Ankara would take back all illegal migrants currently stranded in Greece.

For each Syrian returned to Turkey, the EU would resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkish camps, in a bid to reduce the incentive for people to undertake the perilous journey to Europe.

Bulgarian media reported on Saturday that Borisov was ready to block the deal if Turkey only agreed to stop the flow of migrants to the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.

Mikl-Leitner and Doskozil, who were due to visit the Bulgarian-Turkish border later on Saturday, expressed their “full support” for Borisov’s demands.

“What applies to Greece also has to apply to Bulgaria,” Doskozil was quoted as saying by the Austrian APA news agency.

Mikl-Leitner meanwhile pledged to host a police conference on border security and human traffickers with the countries along the western Balkan migrant trail, including Germany and Greece.

More than a million migrants and refugees have used the route through the Aegean Sea since the start of 2015, many from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, continuing their journey via the Balkans to reach wealthy Germany, Austria and Scandinavia.

[AFP]