Turkey calls for update on 2016 migrant deal with EU

Turkey is ready for "constructive work" towards a new migrant deal with the European Union, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoglu said on Tuesday.

Conditions have changed since March 2016, when Turkey and the EU first forged a deal on migrants, the minister said in an interview published by state-run Anadolu news agency.

“We will discuss [with the EU] what we can do [on refugees] under the new circumstances,”  Cavuşoğlu said, urging the EU should act honestly towards Turkey.

Çavuşoğlu’s remarks follow a visit earlier this week by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Brussels for a meeting with EU and NATO leaders to discuss a soaring migrants crisis. 

Tens and thousands of people have massed on Turkey's land border with Greece, after Erdoğan said he would open the gates to migrants and refugees, saying his country can no longer host them. Turkey is currently home to some 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

Following a meeting with Eroğan on Monday, EU Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said both sides were committed to preserving the 2016 migrant deal. But the Turkish president left Monday evening without issuing a joint statement or taking part in the planned joint news conference.

The  2016 deal is not for “Turkey to keep refugees,” but it includes visa liberation for Turkish citizens, enabling safe and voluntary return of Syrian refugees and accelerating Turkey’s EU accession process, Çavuşoğlu said. 

Turkey accuses the EU of failing to keep to pledges under a refugee deal signed in 2016, in which Ankara would receive six billion euros for refugee-related services and visa-free travel in the EU for Turkish citizens in return for curbing the flow of migrants and refugees into the EU. 

“Turkey needs the EU but the EU needs Turkey much more. Especially, if it wants to be a global actor,” the Turkish minister said. 

Çavuşoğlu also said Europe had failed welcoming refugees from the embattled province of Idlib, northwestern Syria, along Turkey’s southern border, nor had it provided support for people seeking asylum from there.

Violence has put Idlib’s population of 3 million at risk of what aid agencies say could be Syria’s worst humanitarian crisis yet, displacing nearly 1 million Syrians toward the Turkish border.

The Turkish minister went on to blast Greece over its treatment of asylum seekers waiting at the Turkish-Greek border, describing it as “a shame for humanity.”

Numerous clashes have broken out at Greece’s eastern border between riot police and migrants. Greece has accused Turkish police of helping people cut down fencing and of bombarding its forces with tear gas. Ankara, in turn, has accused Greek border guards of using undue force against the amassed migrants, injuring many and killing at least five.

Other countries must follow procedures on asylum seekers in line with international law, just as Turkey opened its doors, Çavuşoğlu told Anadolu.