March 3, 2016 / 2:37 PM / in 2 years

Dutch PM Rutte urges Ankara to cut migrant flows towards zero

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Turkey must ensure the number of refugees and migrants leaving its shores for Europe drops towards zero, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, the current holder of the European Union’s presidency, said on Thursday.

A Syrian refugee family leave a beach close to Turkish coastal town of Dikili, Turkey, following a failed attempt of crossing to the Greek island of Lesbos, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Rutte was speaking ahead of an EU-Turkey summit on Monday when the 28-nation bloc will push for the implementation of a deal under which Ankara is due to cut the arrivals and help alleviate what turned into a major migration crisis for the EU.

“We need to bring it back to a level from which we can see zero. It has to be really considerably lower than it is today. You have to see the zero, I cannot see the zero from where it is now,” Rutte said in an interview with Reuters and two other media outlets. “You can’t get an absolute zero but at least bring down the numbers to a large extent from where we are now.”

Keeping the flow low for several weeks would allow the EU to start taking in people directly from Turkey in a bid to promote legal migration and discourage perilous travels across the sea. The European Union should also be able to increase returns to Turkey of people not eligible for asylum in Europe.

“On Monday, the least I hope we can achieve is that we agree, Turkey and the EU, to accelerate readmission of third country nationals and economic migrants,” Rutte said. “I think that would be the minimum outcome.”

“And I hope we can come to an agreement on resettlement: that for a couple weeks we can asses that the numbers coming from Turkey to Greece are really coming down with the zero being visible, so that it is possible for the EU to start a more ambitious resettlement. So a minimum outcome and a preferred outcome.”

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Philip Blenkinsop

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