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Athens wants to revamp EU-Turkey migrant deal

Athens wants to revamp EU-Turkey migrant deal

by host

BRUSSELS — Athens wants to expand a migration deal with Turkey, Greek Interior Minister Dimitrios Kairidis said. 

The European Union reached the contentious agreement with Turkey at the peak of the migration crisis in March 2016. It foresaw that all undocumented migrants arriving from Turkey to the Greek islands without admissible asylum applications should be returned to Turkey. 

But these days, that deal “does not work, Turkey does not take back people,” Kairidis told POLITICO.

After a meeting with EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson and German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser in Brussels on Thursday, Kairidis said there’s “more cooperation from the Turkish side and better guarding of the border.” Germany is concerned because many migrants who cross into the EU from Turkey are destined for Germany. 

“We already see some improvement on the ground, especially on the land border,” Kairidis said.

Tensions between Athens and Ankara on migration and territorial disputes have often run high. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cut off relations with Greece after Mitsotakis urged U.S. lawmakers in May 2022 to block arms sales to Turkey. But Greece’s prompt reaction to the devastating earthquakes in Turkey in February this year created a new backdrop for bilateral ties. Greek and Turkish leaders this summer agreed on a fresh start to talks.

And after the recent Turkish election, which Erdoğan narrowly won, Ankara expressed renewed interest in negotiations for Turkey’s accession to the EU, which leaders in 2018 said had “come to a standstill.” In June this year, the European Council asked the European Commission and top EU diplomat Josep Borrell to submit a report on the state of play on relations with Turkey. 

Kairidis said that now is the time to “reenergize, rejuvenate and expand” the EU-Turkey migration deal. “There is still a long way to go,” he added, including “room for improvement in both guarding the border and combating smuggling networks.”

The original agreement did not apply to migrants crossing to Greece through the “land border, only the islands,” Kairidis said. “Now, we might want to include” controls of the land border so that migrants crossing there may also be returned. 

If cooperation continues to improve, he said, the EU “can explore more ambitious things such as the visa liberalization” for Turkish citizens — a long-standing concern for Turkey. A roadmap of actions details how Ankara could achieve this target. 

Then there’s the aspect of funding. The EU-Turkey deal has so far been financed with about €10 billion — the EU could add an “additional €3 billion now,” Kairidis said.

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