Turkey seeks extra 3 billion euros in EU migration aid

Turkey has demanded an additional 3 billion euros (3.3 billion dollars) from the European Union by 2018, in return for help in tackling migration flows, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said at an EU-Turkey summit Monday.

In October, the bloc already offered 3 billion euros to help improve the living conditions of Syrian refugees living in Turkey this year and next, in return for measures aimed at preventing them from continuing their journey towards Europe.

The continent has struggled with an influx of migrants and asylum seekers that brought more than 1 million people to its shores last year, with some 135,000 more following since the start of 2016.

Most travelled via Turkey to Greece in the hope of ultimately reaching wealthy northern European countries such as Germany.

Earlier Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called for "solidarity," noting that Turkey and the EU needed one another. The country says it has taken in 2.7 million Syrian refugees, at a cost of more than 10 billion dollars.

"We have to see the whole picture – not just irregular migration, but [that] the whole future of our continent is on the table," Davutoglu said.

But Austrian Finance Minister Hans-Joerg Schelling said he was "not prepared" to make further funds available until countries including his received more help in shouldering the burdens of the refugee crisis.

The Turkish aid request is part of several demands, including progress in Ankara's EU accession talks, Schulz said. The country also wants visa-free access for its citizens to the bloc from June, Andalou news agency reported, quoting unnamed sources close to Davutoglu.

Monday's talks were extended into the evening to discuss Davutoglu's new proposals.

The EU wants Turkey to hold back asylum seekers and is now pushing Ankara to take back economic migrants who have arrived in Greece, but do not qualify for asylum.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a "sustainable solution" to the crisis together with Turkey, following several hours of talks with Davutolgu late Sunday.

Turkey and the EU are also discussing whether Ankara could take back Syrians from Greece, in return for which the bloc would do more to resettle asylum seekers directly from Turkey, sources in Brussels said.

Schulz defended the idea of returning people to Turkey, arguing that it would deal a "blow against traffickers," by convincing people to file for asylum before leaving the country, in the hope of being resettled in the EU.

But French President Francois Hollande spoke out against such a move, arguing that it would make more sense to relocate Syrians directly out of Greece. About half of the people reaching the EU are Syrians fleeing war.

The talks with Davutoglu also touched on other issues, notably the Turkish government's recent takeover of the Zaman opposition newspaper.

Leaders including British Prime Minister David Cameron voiced their concerns at the move during the summit, a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Earlier, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel had called for an "honest" exchange with Davutoglu, saying "it cannot be that because of the refugee issue other values that are important for Europe, such as freedom of the media, just get thrown overboard."

EU leaders were also expected to discuss border restrictions introduced along the Western Balkan migration route from Greece to northern Europe, in an effort to stem the flow. The move has sparked a humanitarian crisis in Greece, which was already overwhelmed with thousands of stranded migrants.

EU leaders were to consider declaring the Western Balkans route "closed," but diplomats said Merkel was among those opposing the move. Germany has been a top destination for migrants.

"When it comes to the question of how we get the number of refugees to decrease not just for some, few countries, but for all countries - including Greece - it cannot be about closing something or other," Merkel told journalists in Brussels.

"This is a European problem. So [we] have to find collective solutions," Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras added.

But leaders from the countries along the Balkan route are insisting on its closure.

"We will close all routes, the Balkan route too," Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said. "It has been for many too easy to simply wave through people."

Hollande noted that the route is for all intents and purposes already shut down. Croatian and Slovenian police reported no migrant arrivals on Sunday.

More than 13,000 people are waiting to cross from Greece into Macedonia, aid agencies estimated Monday. Local media reported that the border between the two countries was closed, including for freight trains.

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

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