Turkey Says No Future Migration Help Without EU Visa-Free Deal

  • Turkish minister Celik signals commitment to existing plan
  • Country may consider changes to counter-terror laws in future

Turkey won’t take part in any future plan to stop migrants entering the European Union unless the bloc gives visa-free access to Turkish citizens, the country’s EU affairs minister said.

Turkey will continue to implement the current migration arrangement that helped slow the flow of refugees into Greece to virtually nothing, but “without visa liberalization Turkey won’t be part of any new mechanism,” Omer Celik told reporters in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Saturday.

Omer Celik speaks to journalists in Bratislava on Sept. 3.

Photographer: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

The remarks,  made after a meeting with the EU’s national foreign ministers, may give the bloc more breathing space as it presses Turkey to change its counter-terror laws, a condition for allowing visa-free travel. Turkey had threatened to pull out of the deal signed in March, which saw the Ankara government accept the return of people who had entered Greece illegally, if visa liberalization wasn’t forthcoming.

While battling Islamic State and Kurdish militants at home and in neighboring Syria, Turkey has insisted it won’t scale back the anti-terrorism legislation that European leaders say undermines democratic standards. At stake is a key part of Europe’s solution to a migration crisis that’s stoked populist sentiment and frayed social cohesion from Stockholm to Athens.

“Turkey shouldn’t be expected to make any changes to its anti-terror law,” Celik said. “It’s about national security, Europe security.” He said Turkey could “make commitments” about changing its terrorism laws in the future but that would happen only once the country was no longer facing such a threat.

EU leaders turned to Turkey for help after almost a million people streamed into Europe last year. Celik said that while the current plan was working well it may not be sufficient to cope with future surges of migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

Foreign ministers took no decisions at their two-day meeting that wrapped up on Saturday afternoon in the capital of Slovakia, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU. A delegation from the EU led by foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini is due in Ankara on Sept. 9 to continue discussions with Turkish officials.

“We have seen today a reaffirmation from the Turkish side to stick to the agreements we’ve had, in particular on the management of the refugee flow,” Mogherini told reporters at the end of the meeting. “On visa liberalization, which is a separate issue, there are clear benchmarks on which we are constantly working.”