EU-Turkey deal agreed: Refugees to return to Turkey
"The Turkey deal was approved," Finnish premier Juha Sipila tweeted as the 28 European Union leaders met to discuss the deal.
Ankara offered to take back all refugees who crossed into Europe from Turkey if the EU agrees to resettle one Syrian living in Turkey for every Syrian refugee Turkey takes back from Greece.
In return, Turkey will receive billions of euros in aid and political concessions from the EU.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with EU leaders in Brussels on Friday for a series of bilateral and technical talks over the deal.
Davutoglu said Ankara's prime concern was the fate of almost three million Syrian refugees in its territory.
At the same time, he was looking for unprecedented concessions to bring his country, the EU's eastern neighbour, even closer to the bloc.
For the EU, the deal would bring some closure to months of bitter infighting over how to deal with the refugee crisis.
It would essentially see Europe outsource its refugee emergency to Turkey.
"For Turkey, the refugee issue is not an issue of bargaining, but values," Davutoglu told reporters earlier on Friday, staking out the same moral ground that the EU has claimed throughout the crisis.
|What does the agreement include?|
- The return of all 'irregular migrants' to Turkey with costs covered by the EU
- To resettle one Syrian ‘within the framework of the existing commitments’ in the EU for every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greece
- To accelerate visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU by end of June 2016
- To accelerate the payment of 3 billion Euro from the EU to Turkey for refugee aid
- To facilitate new discussions regarding the accession of Turkey to the European Union
- To work alongside Turkey in improving humanitarian conditions inside Syria
Davutoglu said he hoped that beyond helping the refugees, the deal would "deepen EU-Turkey relations" with the approval of unprecedented access to Europe for Turkish nationals and the speeding-up of bogged-down EU membership talks.
With more than one million migrants having arrived in Europe in the past year, EU leaders have been desperate to clinch a deal with Turkey and heal deep rifts within the 28-member bloc - while relieving the pressure on Greece, which has borne the brunt of arrivals.
The deal would have clear commitments that the rights of legitimate refugees would be respected and treated according to international and EU law.
Within a week, Turkish and EU officials will assess joint projects to help Syrian refugees in Turkey, after complaints that promised aid of 3 billion euros [$3.3 billion] was too slow in coming.
|Read Also: EU-Turkey refugee deal amounts to 'horse-trading' with human lives|
Turkey would also be guaranteed that EU accession talks on budgetary issues could start before the summer.
In the Idomeni camp on the Greek-Macedonian border, Muhammad Hassan, a Syrian from the devastated city of Aleppo, was looking for relief from the talks in Brussels and wondered why a continent of 500 million people could not deal with the situation.
|Refugees holding placards stage a protest out of despair in a makeshift camp at the Greek-Macedonian border [Getty]|
"Europe have only one million" refugees, Hassan said. "How come it's difficult?" he asked, comparing the EU to Lebanon, a nation now of 5.9 million.
"If a small country takes 3 million refugees and didn't talk, how about Europe? It's not difficult."
The conditions in Greece and the Idomeni camp were called intolerable by the Greek government on Friday.
Interior minister Panagiotis Kouroumplis compared the crowded tent city to a Nazi concentration camp, blaming the suffering on some European countries' closed border policies.
During a visit to Idomeni on Friday, Kouroumplis said the situation was a result of the "logic of closed borders" by countries that refused to accept refugees.
More than 46,000 people are trapped in Greece, after Austria and a series of Balkan countries stopped letting through refugees who reach Greece from Turkey and want to go to Europe's prosperous heartland.
Greece wants refugees to move from Idomeni to organised shelters.
The EU-Turkey plan would be operational despite concerns about Turkey's sub-par asylum system and human rights abuses. Under it, the EU would pay to send new migrants arriving in Greece who don't qualify for asylum back to Turkey.
For every Syrian returned, the EU would accept one Syrian refugee, for a target figure of 72,000 people to be distributed between European states.
Apart from easing visa restrictions, the EU will also offer Turkey - home to 2.7 million Syrian refugees - up to 6 billion euros [$6.6 billion] in aid, and faster EU membership talks.