October 19, 2015 / 11:01 AM / 2 years ago

Turkey should not become 'concentration camp' for migrants, PM says

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey wants fresh funding from the European Union in exchange for stopping migrants streaming to Europe but should not be expected to turn itself into a “concentration camp” for refugees, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Monday.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addressess during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Istanbul, Turkey October 18, 2015. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Europe, struggling with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people in the biggest migration movement it has seen since World War Two, is dangling the prospect of financial aid and faster EU membership in front of Turkey in the hope of winning its help in stemming the influx.

Both President Tayyip Erdogan and Davutoglu, whose AK Party faces a general election on Nov. 1, are keen to avoid any impression of weakness in dealing with European nations they say have only just realized Turkey’s value in the migrant crisis and are digging in their heels on the funding issue.

“We can’t accept this idea that ‘we’ve given this to Turkey, and Turkey is satisfied, so all migrants should stay in Turkey’,” Davutoglu said in an interview on Turkey’s Ahaber TV.

“Nobody should expect Turkey to become a country housing all migrants, like a concentration camp.”

A large number of the migrants are Syrians fleeing their nation’s civil war adjacent to Turkey.

EU leaders at a summit in Brussels last week said they had agreed on a migration “action plan” with Ankara, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the figure of 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) had been discussed.

But a day after meeting Merkel in Istanbul, Davutoglu said that sum would have come from “IPA” funds - money already earmarked for Turkey as an EU membership candidate - and that Ankara wanted fresh cash in a sum to be reviewed each year.

“The 3 billion euro IPA fund proposal is no longer on the table as we have said we will not accept it,” Davutoglu said.

“As for fresh resources, we’re talking about a 3 billion euro amount in the first stage. But we don’t want to fixate on this because the requirements may go up, and the assessment for this would need to be done annually.”

CHALLENGES AHEAD

Merkel on Sunday offered Turkey the prospect of support for faster progress on its bid to join the EU, as well as an accelerated path to visa-free travel for Turks, a priority for many in the nation of 78 million.

In return, she expected Turkey to agree more quickly to take in migrants sent back by the EU, under so-called “readmission agreements” that Davutoglu has said he would sign up to only if there is progress on liberalizing the visa regime.

Davutoglu said the EU stance on Turkey’s demand that visa-free travel be introduced by July 2016 was “positive” but that a clearer picture would only emerge next year.

He also said he believed that six new negotiating “chapters” in Turkey’s EU accession process could be opened immediately. The so-called “chapters” concern harmonizing rules on a range of issues from energy and economic policy to fundamental rights.

But in a sign of the challenges ahead, Cyprus said on Monday it would not lift its objections to opening frozen chapters.

The four-decade division of Cyprus between the Greek-speaking south, which is an EU member, and the breakaway Turkish-backed north has slowed Turkey’s EU accession efforts. Only Ankara recognizes northern Cyprus as a separate state.

EU opponents of admitting Turkey to the 28-nation bloc also point to what they see as Ankara’s checkered human rights record, its conflict with Kurds seeking greater autonomy and recent crackdowns on media freedoms.

Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul, Michele Kambas in Athens; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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