Turkey threatens to end EU migrant deal over visas
Ankara has threatened to back out of a deal to send Syrian refugees back across the Aegean if the European Union fails to implement visa-free travel for Turks by the end of the year, Turkey's EU minister has warned.
"Forcing this despite the situation is putting a roadblock in front of the visa liberalisation, and therefore we will assume they aren't keeping the promises they made," Turkish EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik told Reuters in an interview in Ankara.
"In that case we won't carry out the readmission deal, and we will cancel it if necessary," he said.
Celik was referring to a controversial deal signed in March in which Turkey agreed to take back Syrian migrants landing on Greek islands in exchange for political and financial incentives.
The deal included billions of euros in aid, visa-free travel for Turks in Europe, and accelerated talks on Turkey's stalled bid for EU membership.
But ties have been strained following President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's massive crackdown on suspects involved in a failed coup in July.
Celik added that no final demand for a schedule had yet been given by Turkey, but that if visa liberalisation was not implemented by the end of the year it would have "reached its natural death".
"There won't be anything left to talk about," he said.
More than a million migrants entered the EU last year by taking boats from Turkey to Greece, but the numbers taking that route have tumbled since the deal with Ankara came into effect.
Celik said Turkey had been keeping its promises, with illegal arrivals on the Greek islands dropping to 20-30 people a day from a peak of 7,000 in 2015.
|Forcing this despite the situation is putting a roadblock in front of the visa liberalisation, and therefore we will assume they aren't keeping the promises they made.
- Omer Celik
"If there is a working part of the deal, it is because of the working quality of Turkish institutions. It is thanks to the security forces and coast guard," he said.
"There is nothing holding the deal back in terms of Turkey realising its promises, but every aspect is lagging from the European side."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the EU in July of not meeting its end of the deal.
"The (European) governments are not honest," Erdogan told German public television station ARD at the time.
In Brussels, the European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation European Union, rejected Erdogan's remarks.
"The European Union is respecting its commitments and suggestions to the contrary are not true," Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told reporters.