"Intense consultations" at EU-Turkey talks as NGOs slam migrant deal

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was negotiating Friday a contentious new plan with the European Union aimed at stemming migrant flows, with a diplomat speaking of "intense consultations" while human rights group slammed the proposed deal.

The plan is the EU's latest effort to end a surge of migrants and asylum seekers that saw more than 1 million people reach European shores last year. Most crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, aiming to then move on to wealthy northern countries.

The EU wants to recruit Ankara's help in dissuading migrants from crossing the Aegean and instead having an initial 72,000 Syrian refugees wait to be resettled in an orderly fashion from Turkey to the EU. Turkey is home to more than 2 million Syrian refugees.

In exchange, Ankara is seeking further refugee aid, as well as progress on visa-free access to the bloc for its citizens and on EU membership for the country.

Davutoglu expressed confidence that he could finalize the new plan, ahead of negotiations in Brussels with EU President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country currently holds the EU presidency.

"I am sure we will be achieving our goal to help all the refugees, as well as to deepen Turkish-EU relations," Davutoglu told journalists in the Belgian capital.

Cypriot government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides wrote on Twitter shortly before noon (1100 GMT) that "intense consultations" were underway.

Turkish diplomats told dpa that the main sticking points included Ankara's demand for discussions to start on new negotiating areas under its bid for EU membership, as well as the legal status of refugees and their protection in Turkey.

Davutoglu had insisted before the talks that for his country, "the refugee issue is not an issue of bargaining but an issue of value – humanitarian values as well as European values."

Non-governmental organizations, however, have been aghast at the proposed deal, most notably a plan for the EU to send asylum seekers from Greek islands back to Turkey so that migrant smugglers are undercut.

"This is a bitter day for refugees. The EU is selling the human rights of refugees to Turkey," said Guenter Burkhardt of the German refugee aid organization Pro Asyl.

Turkey has been criticized for not offering refugees adequate housing or access to education, as well as for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian behaviour, including a recent crackdown on opposition media.

"EU leaders have been mute in their response to these trends in the misguided hope of securing Turkey's co-operation in stopping the boats," said Kenneth Roth of the Human Rights Watch organization.

The talks with Davutoglu follow eight hours of negotiations among EU leaders on Thursday to agree on a common negotiating position. More talks among the 28 EU leaders are expected to follow on Friday afternoon, a source said on condition of anonymity.

On Thursday, Tusk had said he was "cautiously optimistic" about finalizing the new deal with Turkey this week. But others warned of the political minefields in the plan.

"The proposed package is very complicated, will be very difficult to implement, and it is on the edge of international law," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said on Thursday afternoon.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

More from Europe

ECB meets overshadowed by threat of crisis in Italy

The European Central Bank met on Thursday to consider launching another round of monetary stimulus but the meeting...

Germany hit with EU legal action over VW emissions scandal

Germany could face hefty fines or an EU lawsuit after the European Commission said the country breached EU auto...

Dynamo Kiev and Besiktas charged for Champions League crowd trouble

Dynamo Kiev and Besiktas have been charged by European football governing body UEFA for the behaviour of their fans...

EU deal brings visa-free access closer for Ukraine

Visa-free access for Ukrainian citizens to the European Union came within reach late Wednesday when EU lawmakers...

Romania election: more a plebiscite on corruption than a policy race

Parliamentary elections in Romania on Sunday are more a referendum on corruption than a vote on policies.