The European Union said Friday that it is ready to hand over 95 million euros (104 million dollars) in refugee aid for Turkey, under a deal that foresees the country curbing migrant flows.
The announcement comes despite concerns that Ankara has not done enough to reduce the number of migrants and asylum seekers who attempt the treacherous crossing of the Aegean Sea to reach Greece and move on to wealthy EU countries.
"The number of illegal entries from Turkey to Greece remains far too high," EU President Donald Tusk said in Turkey, noting that there was, however, "good progress" in some aspects of tackling the migration issue.
"Europe needs Turkey in order to address this issue," EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told journalists in Brussels. "[There are] the very first signs of this cooperation ... bearing fruit and we encourage Turkey to move ahead on what we have decided."
"We ask Ankara to achieve concrete results," Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni added at a conference in Rome.
The funds include 55 million euros to help Syrian schoolchildren in Turkey access education and 40 million euros for food aid to 735,000 Syrian refugees through the World Food Programme (WFP).
Turkey says it has spent more than 10 billion dollars on the approximately 3 million Syrians who have settled in Turkey since the civil war began in 2011.
The EU has promised Turkey a total of 3 billion euros in refugee aid as part of its migration deal with Ankara. However, there have been reports of disagreements over how the money should be spent, and Turkey also wants Europe to help resettle more refugees.
"Children of Syrian refugees in Turkey need access to formal education so that they can hope to build a normal life in the future," said the EU's commissioner for neighbourhood policy, Johannes Hahn, who was visiting refugee camps in Turkey on Friday.
The WFP said the aid will allow it to assist more than three times the number of Syrian refugees it currently supports.
The agreement also foresees closer ties between the EU and Turkey, which has been trying to join the bloc for years.
Ankara, for instance, is demanding the EU wave visa regulations for Turkish citizens by October.
The commission said in a new report issued Friday that Turkey has accelerated prerequisite reforms, but that it still needs to undertake further measures - for instance the issuance of passports featuring fingerprints.
The two sides are due to further discuss their response to the migration crisis during a special summit in Brussels on Monday. The country has been the main gateway to Europe for migrants and asylum seekers, more than 1 million of whom arrived by sea last year.
"We need to see the flows from Turkey go drastically down soon," Avramopoulos said.
He also called for Monday's summit to deliver a decision to "speed up massive relocations," as part of a bid to lessen the burden on overwhelmed Greece by sending asylum seekers to other EU countries.
A total of 160,000 asylum seekers are supposed to be redistributed out of migration frontline countries such as Greece and Italy, but only a few hundred have been relocated so far.
In the meantime, migrant arrivals have shown no sign of abating.
The Netherlands, which currently holds the EU's presidency, nevertheless said in a report issued Friday that it hopes to achieve "a distinct improvement of the migration situation" before an EU summit on March 17-18.
Avramopoulos warned that "all that we have achieved during the last 60 years is at stake," while Gentiloni pointed to the risk of a "progressive EU disunion" if there is no progress.
Greece this week returned to Turkey 308 economic migrants who did not qualify for refugee status.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016 - 12:23
Friday, March 18, 2016 - 17:38
Friday, March 18, 2016 - 16:35