migrants, berlin germany.jpg
Photograph: EPA/KAY NIETFELD

Lawmakers in the European Parliament on Wednesday criticized plans for a new migration deal with Turkey that would see Ankara take back migrants and asylum seekers in exchange for the European Union resettling Syrian refugees out of the country.

The EU hopes to finalize the agreement at a summit next week, but human rights advocates have argued that the proposed refugee swap is not in line with European rules or international conventions.

EU parliamentarians from across party lines expressed everything from wariness and concern to outrage over the deal with Turkey during a plenary debate in the French city of Strasbourg.

"This agreement cannot be a form of horse-trading in the skins of refugees," said Gianni Pittella, who heads the Socialist faction in the legislature.

"I struggle to see how much of this is either legal or practical. Even in desperate times, should we just tear up our own rules and international conventions?" added Syed Kamall, the leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group.

"You don't trade in people or fundamental rights," said Gabriele Zimmer, who chairs the far-left GUE/NGL faction. "What a shabby image we are giving off as the EU."

Green leader Philippe Lamberts spoke of a "moral collapse."

The EU's approach would be comparable to the United States telling neighbouring Mexico: "You manage the borders in the future," Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt charged.

He predicted that it will backfire, leading migrants to seek alternative routes to the EU - for instance through Italy, Albania, Malta or Bulgaria.

Parliamentarians also warned against getting too cosy with Turkey and its increasingly authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They slammed his country's recent takeovers of opposition media and attacks on Kurds.

"Erdogan is taking you to the cleaners, Erdogan is blackmailing you," far-right leader Marine Le Pen said.

Conservative leader Manfred Weber called for a "partnership" with Turkey rather than a form of "dependence" that could inspire other neighbour countries to demand concessions from the EU or threaten to unleash migrant flows.

Parliamentarians also are wary of other aspects of the planned deal, particularly any promises to give Turkish citizens visa-free access to the EU or to speed up Turkey's accession to the bloc.

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