Europe Lines Up Initial $3.4 Billion Refugee Deal for Turkey

  • European Union would supply aid, Turkey to stem migrant flow
  • Russian bombing raids in Syria seen creating more refugees

The European Union has provisionally agreed to provide 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) of aid to Turkey in return for help in stemming the flow of refugees from the Middle East, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, increased the amount on offer from 1 billion euros before reaching a deal and is due to brief EU leaders on the terms at a summit in Brussels Thursday, Muscat said in an interview.

“There is definitely a preliminary agreement,” Muscat said as leaders discussed the EU’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II. “We are waiting for the commission to explain the terms.”

With more than a million migrants set to reach the EU this year, and more expected as a result of Russian bombing raids in Syria, Turkey is the focus of efforts to stem the wave of refugees who often travel on into the bloc. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Istanbul on Sunday.

A German official said a package had yet to be finalized, with issues still to be settled including funding for the aid and a Turkish request for visa-free travel to Europe.

Paying Up

Earlier on Thursday, Merkel said the summit would discuss financing for refugee camps and the 2.2 million refugees in Turkey, which has about the same population and twice the land mass of Germany. As the EU boosted the aid on offer to its neighbor, she told her partners that everyone has to pay their fair share to deal with the migration crisis.

“I hope that we get direct signals that all countries are fulfilling their financial obligations and that all countries are willing to offer personnel,” Merkel told reporters. “Only a small number of countries have a great number of refugees and if they provide all of the personnel at the outer border, then that’s not what we understand as a fair distribution.”

To reach a deal, the EU will have to overcome a legacy of resentment in Ankara caused by the union keeping Turkey waiting for a decade after it asked to join the bloc, and criticism of its record on human rights. European leaders will also have to sell any agreement on visa-free travel to public opinion at home, where anti-foreigner political parties are on the rise.

For EU President Donald Tusk, the priority now is persuading Turkey to help stem the wave of refugees “especially after the last action in Syria” -- a reference to the Russian raids. “The new wave will be bigger than now,” Tusk said, adding that the EU needs Turkey to give guarantees “as concrete and substantive” as the incentives the bloc has offered in return.

European Arguments

The debate over how to police EU borders and process arrivals efficiently touches a particularly raw nerve with frontier states that feel they’ve been left to tackle the crisis alone for too long.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that if Greece won’t allow the EU to help defend its border with Turkey, then the bloc would have to do more to stop refugees leaving Greece through the Balkans. Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic branded a plan to set up a special EU border force “impossible.” Instead, he said, it was up to Greece and Turkey, as well as Germany and Sweden, to act.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said it was in Europe’s interests for his country and Italy to be given support by the rest of the bloc.

Greece and Italy have been criticized by EU officials for failing to register and fingerprint all new arrivals, and for letting many migrants simply move on northwards. One solution put forward is to set up so-called “hot spot” centers in the two countries to process new arrivals. Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas called for immediate action on that front.

“At the moment we have a very disorderly situation,” Merkel said. “So we need more order and more control.”

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