EU leaders agree on common position to offer Turkey on refugee deal

Luxembourg's prime minister says European Union leaders have agreed on joint position to offer Turkey concerning refugee agreement

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

EU leaders pose for a family photo on the first day of an EU summit meeting, on March 16, 2016, at the European Union headquarters in Brussels.

Updated Mar 18, 2016

European Union leaders agreed on Thursday on a common position they will present to Turkey on Friday during talks on how to stem the flow of refugees from Turkey to Europe, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said on Twitter.

A senior EU official said it was "not a deal but a common position" that would allow negotiations to move forward, adding that President of the European Council Donald Tusk had "understood everyone's red lines".

In accordance with the deal, refugees en route to Greece will be sent back to Turkey, a move which German Chancellor Angela Merkel said  the European Union must be ready to start in order to avoid a "pull factor" before the new system takes effect, although EU leaders had set no start date.

In return, Turkey will receive aid from the EU to cater for the needs of Syrians in the country, Ankara's EU membership process and a scheme to let Turks visit Europe without visas will be sped up.

Syrian refugee girl Ele Cundi, 5, poses as she sits with her friends in a kindergarten at Midyat refugee camp in Mardin province, Turkey, December 14, 2015. [Reuters]

Speaking after an EU summit agreed on terms to offer Ankara later on Friday, Merkel said negotiations with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu would not be easy but that all EU countries wanted a deal.

"We did not set a date, but Turkey's clear understanding is that within a few days of returns starting, the one-for-one resettlement (of Syrian refugees from Turkey to Europe) should begin," Merkel told a news conference. 

After a year in which more than a million people have arrived in Europe fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond, EU countries are looking desperately to Turkey to seal its coastline and stem the flow.

Prime Minister Davutoglu said as he boarded a plane in Ankara that the proposed deal was "clear and honest" but added that "Turkey will never become an open prison for refugees."

Davutoglu is due to meet Tusk, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at 0730 GMT before EU leaders meet again for final consultations expected at 1200 GMT, said EU officials.

TRTWorld and agencies