October 16, 2015 / 4:48 PM / in 2 years

Turkey grumbles as EU hails deal to stem migration

Migrants make their way after crossing the border at Zakany, Hungary October 16, 2015. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

ISTANBUL/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Turkish leaders accused Europeans on Friday of treating their country shabbily and warned that a new deal with the EU to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe was not completely finalised.

Officials in Brussels, where EU leaders agreed overnight to offer Ankara cash, easier visa terms and a “re-energized” consideration of its EU membership bid, voiced cautious optimism that Turkey would do its part to encourage Syrian refugees not to head to Europe and to deter economic migrants from Asia.

President Tayyip Erdogan, the object of ardent wooing over the past month by Europeans who had long shown a cold shoulder to what they see as his increasingly authoritarian ways, told Turks he was unimpressed by their belated change of heart.

“Europe’s security and stability is contingent on our security and stability. They have accepted this now,” he told an audience in Istanbul. “OK. But how long have we been shouting and calling? In Turkey now there are 2.2 million Syrians alone.”

Nearly half a million people, including many Syrians now despairing of an end to the war in their homeland, have made dangerous journeys by sea from Turkey to Greece this year, a surge that has plunged the European Union into crisis.

As Turks vote in two weeks in a second legislative election this year, Erdogan and his allies have a pressing interest in presenting terms with the EU in the best light and avoiding any suggestion of a sellout to help ungrateful Europeans.

Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu, who said the deal was not in its final shape, said it must not be seen as Turkey being paid to keep refugees. A spokesman for Erdogan’s party said linking migration to Turkey’s long stalled EU accession bid would amount to “political bribery”.

PRESTIGE PROJECT

EU officials said an agreement to “re-energize” that process still left membership of the bloc for a relatively poor Muslim state of 78 million as a very distant prospect and questioned whether Ankara even truly wants to join. But committing to a new effort to talk about more cooperation was more about offering “prestige and dignity” and salving wounded Turkish pride.

A visit to Istanbul on Sunday by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called Turkey indispensable to solving a crisis that has seen Germany take in the lion’s share in Europe of refugees, is another token of respect. Merkel also confirmed that new funds from the EU could be in the region of 3 billion euros.

Most important for Ankara, European diplomats said, was a pledge to speed up a process that could waive visa requirements for Turks wanting to travel to Europe. But that would still need Turkey to, among other things, clamp down on access for Afghans, Pakistanis and others who then try to enter the EU illegally.

The government of Cyprus, along with major EU powers, was also quick to stress after the deal was announced during a summit of the 28 national governments that conditions applying to visa liberalization or the accession process were unchanged.

A decade old but little advanced, much of the process is frozen over the refusal by Ankara, lone supporter of the breakaway Turkish-speaking state in northern Cyprus, to include EU member Cyprus in arrangements with the bloc.

“KEEP OUT”

Nearly half a million people, including many Syrians now despairing of an end to the war in their homeland, have made dangerous journeys by sea from Turkey to Greece this year, a surge that has plunged the European Union into crisis.

At their summit, leaders reached no new conclusions on the future redistribution of asylum seekers around the bloc from frontline states Greece and Italy -- an issue that provoked furious rows among governments over the summer.

Pilot schemes on relocation are getting under way, though they have got off to a slow start and it remains unclear how Syrians, Iraqis and Eritreans -- the main beneficiaries -- can be made to stay in the countries to which they are assigned when most want to go to Germany, Sweden or other wealthy states.

There was more focus at the summit on stemming the flow of migrants, both by improving the welfare of refugees in the Middle East and encouraging development in Africa, and by tightening controls on the external frontiers of the Union. One idea is to establish a common EU border guard system.

Amnesty International warned against measures that do not protect those entitled to protection: “European leaders’ desperate attempts to enlist Turkey as Europe’s gatekeeper are ignoring the manifest failures of the Turkish authorities to respect the rights of refugees and migrants,” it said.

Some European states have taken an increasingly tough line on keeping people out. Hungary, which has already fenced off its border with non-EU Serbia to keep out people trekking across the Balkans from Greece, announced it would seal off its frontier with fellow EU member Croatia at midnight on Friday.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government complained that the summit’s failure to deploy an EU force to keep people from landing in Greece meant Budapest had to take its own action.

Ex-communist states in eastern Europe have resisted a push to take in more refugees across the bloc. The head of the right-wing party tipped to win power in Poland next week, called on the government to explain how it would ensure immigrants did not spread disease. The Czech president warned that Muslims would not respect local customs and would practise sharia law.

There are problems, too, far from the main migrant routes leading from the Middle East and Africa, where European leaders hope the onset of winter storms will reduce the influx by sea.

At Calais, from where people without valid travel documents try to reach Britain, an unidentified person was killed by a train near the Channel Tunnel. And the local authority said the number of migrants camping out had doubled to nearly 6,000.

Writing by Alastair Macdonald; editng by Ralph Boulton

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