ANKARA: Turkey will not take back migrants already on Greek islands under a deal proposed to European Union leaders at a crunch summit this week, Ankara’s EU affairs minister said Thursday.
Volkan Bozkir was quoted by the Anatolia news agency as saying Turkey would take back “tens of thousands” of migrants, “not hundreds of thousands or millions”, and they would “not include the existing refugees on the Greek islands”.
At talks in Brussels this week, Turkey surprised EU leaders by presenting a set of proposals to help solve the migrant crisis the continent’s worst since World War II.
Under Monday’s tentative deal, Ankara offered to take back all illegal migrants landing in Greece and to set up an arrangement to exchange Syrians in Greece for Syrian refugees in Turkey.
But the deal still has to be confirmed by another summit next week and has already come under fire from the UN refugee chief and rights groups, who questioned whether it was legal, and even some EU members.
Bozkir said the offer did not include migrants already on the Greek islands and sounded a note of caution about how many people Turkey, which already hosts 2.7 million Syrian refugees, would take back.
“It would be more accurate to say the number of migrants to be returned to Turkey in the event of a readmission agreement with the EU will be thousands or tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands or millions,” he told Anatolia.
In November, the EU agreed to deliver three billion euros ($3.3 billion) in funds for refugees in return for Ankara’s cooperation in tackling the migrant crisis.
At the Brussels summit, Turkey also asked for an extra three billion euros in aid, along with visa-free travel to the bloc for Turkish citizens.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has rejected the idea Ankara was “begging” the EU for money.
Europe is desperate to find a way to stem the flow of migrants, many of them fleeing Syria’s five-year civil war, arriving on its southern shores, and hopes the Turkey deal will be decisive.
In the latest tragedy, at least five migrants, including a baby, died as they made the perilous sea crossing from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos.