EU-Turkey deal ‘realistic’: European parliament member

PARIS

A British member of European Parliament has called the recent agreement between Turkey and the EU as the "most realistic" tool to deal with the refugee crisis despite ethical and legal concerns.

Syed Kamall, who belongs to the U.K. Conservative Party, made the remark during a debate over the deal at the European Parliament in the French city of Strasbourg Wednesday.

Members of European Parliament voiced concerns over the agreement, especially for certain asylum seekers who may not get any international protection after getting labeled as "economic migrants".

Many members questioned whether the deal would work, arguing that human smugglers would simply find new routes. Some also expressed concern over the lack of staff to deal with the influx of people in Greece as well as conditions on the ground for asylum seekers, according to an European Parliament statement.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz and European Council President Donald Tusk both defended the agreement.

According to Schulz, the deal, despite its imperfections, had saved the Schengen Area, which he believed faced risk of extinction until last March.

"The agreement with Turkey is not perfect and we are fully aware of its risks and weaknesses. We have done everything to ensure that the agreement respects human dignity, but I am also aware that everything depends on its implementation," Schulz said in his speech.

- Visa-free travel

Meanwhile, European Parliament Rapporteur for Turkey Kati Piri said Wednesday that visa-free travel for Turkish nationals within the EU under a refugee deal may not be realized by June.

Addressing a press conference in Strasbourg, Piri told reporters that Turkey had done quite a lot over the last two years but one-third of the EU's 72 requirements still remained unimplemented.

"I don't think it's realistic to say Turkey will manage to pass all this legislation in a month's time if it hasn't done so in the last two years," she said.

She added that there were no obstacles to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens as soon as the legislation was in place and the criteria was met.

"We work with clear criteria on issues such as the quality of passports and border controls," she said.

Under an EU-Turkey deal to ease the refugee crisis facing Europe, EU leaders agreed to cut visa requirements for Turkish citizens and accelerate Turkey's EU membership bid.

The deal also provides a 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) aid package to help Turkey care for millions of refugees hosted in Turkey.

Under Turkey's proposal to the EU, the country wants the 28-nation bloc to "share the burden'' based on a formula of "for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU member states".

Ankara also wants visa liberalization by June, speeding up Turkey's accession talks, and additional three billion euros to meet the needs of Syrian refugees in the country.

The deal between the EU and Turkey is aimed at breaking the people smuggling gangs who have been trafficking refugees across the Aegean Sea, resulting in hundreds of deaths, according to EU and Turkish officials.

Over 173,000 migrants or refugees have crossed into Greece and Italy since the beginning of 2016, according to the International Organization for Migration. Of the 173,761 migrants that have already crossed the Mediterranean this year, 153,106 have reached the Greek islands as of April 11 while 19,930 people landed in Italy. Another 648 migrants landed in Spain, while 27 others landed in southern Cyprus.

During the same period, at least 723 migrants and refugees have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean, with the Eastern Mediterranean route between Turkey and Greece continuing to be the deadliest, accounting for 375 migrant deaths. During the first three months in 2015, 505 migrants died in all Mediterranean routes.

According to the IOM, the number of migrant and refugee arrivals from Turkey decreased significantly in March 2016, with only 27,000 arrivals recorded - roughly half the number recorded in February 2016.

According to the Greek authorities, nearly half of the refugees who arrived in Greece are Syrians. Afghans and Iraqis make up the next largest nationality groups.

Source: Anadolu Agency