Turkey and European Union leaders approved a deal on Friday intended on halting illegal refugee flows into Europe, providing visa liberation for Turkish citizens and adding an accessory funding to the already spent billions Turkey has provided for its refugees.
The long awaited deal aims at blocking the influx of refugees into Europe, mainly through preventing people smugglers from sending refugees across the Aegean Sea into Greece.
After weeks of talks with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, including this morning, European Council President Donald Tusk recommended the 28-EU member states to approve the text without changes and they agreed at a summit lunch in Brussels.
"Agreement with Turkey approved. All illegal migrants who arrive to Greece from Turkey starting March 20 will be returned!" Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka tweeted.
Under the deal, Ankara will simultaneously welcome refugees from Greece into Turkey as the EU takes Syrian refugees from Turkey into EU countries, a proposed visa-free travel legislation for Turkish citizens will be sped up, Turkey’s EU membership negotiations will advance and the EU will input a grant as an accessory to the billions of Euros Turkey has already spent on refugees.
From Sunday onwards, refugees who arrive in Greece will likely be sent back to Turkey after they are registered and their asylum claim is processed.
The returns would begin on April 4 and resettlement of Syrian refugees in Europe would begin simultaneously.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised the EU for its hypocrisy over refugees, human rights and “dancing in a minefield” with terrorists as supporters of the PKK terrorist group were setting up tents near the summit venue.
At a time when Turkey is hosting three million refugees, countries who are unable to find space for a handful of refugees in the middle of Europe as innocent lives live in shameful conditions, must look at their actions, Erdogan said.
The EU will accelerate a previously pledged 3.3 billion euro disbursement, which has been slow on the mark, to support refugees in Turkey, a further 3 billion had also been pledged to be paid by 2018.
Greek Cypriot administration leader Nicos Anastasiades had opposed the deal yet was sidestepped because EU leaders agreed to open a negotiating chapter.
Merkel voiced satisfaction at a news conference after the deal was sealed, yet advised that it will be a challenge.
"I have no illusions that what we agreed today will be accompanied by further setbacks. There are big legal challenges that we must now overcome," she said.
"But I think we've reached an agreement that has an irreversible momentum and it was very important for me that we managed to agree all that among the 28 today," Merkel said.
Macedonia’s human rights record has received drowning criticism for closing its border as 43,000 refugees bottled up, waiting for a solution.
Turkish deputy prime minister, last week said that the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey had exceeded the 2.7 million mark which is higher than any other country according to UN records.