Turkey on Monday demanded an additional 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) from the European Union to help deal with the refugee crisis as EU leaders appealed to Ankara to take back thousands of migrants and prevent others from heading Europe.
Turkey — a temporary home to an estimated 2.75 million refugees, many from the conflict in Syria — is an indispensable EU partner in trying to dissuade people fleeing conflict or poverty from taking to makeshift boats and making the short but often-dangerous trip across the Aegean Sea.
“To avoid refugees from arriving in Greece we have to cooperate with Turkey,” French President Francois Hollande said as he arrived for the EU-Turkey summit in Brussels.
In a draft statement prepared for the talks, the leaders said they will pursue “comprehensive, large scale and fast track returns to Turkey of all irregular migrants not in need of international protection”.
But Turkish leaders upped the ante on Monday, demanding the additional funds by 2018, on top of 3 billion euros the EU had already pledged to help Syrian refugees in the country, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said. Turkey also made requests to ease visa rules by June instead of the end of the year.
In another demand, Turkey wanted to be able to send Syrian refugees to the 28-nation EU as they take people back who have made the crossing into Greece. The EU is desperate to halt the flow of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea. NATO ships are also set to help patrol the sea between Greece and Turkey, easing the load on Turkey’s military-run coast guard.
Turkey says this summit is as much about its thwarted EU membership ambitions as Europe’s inability to manage the refugee emergency. The membership talks have dragged on for a decade and Ankara is looking for improved negotiating conditions.
“Turkey is ready to work with the EU, and Turkey is ready to be a member of the EU as well,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters, expressing hope that the talks “will be a success story and a turning point in our relations”.
North of Greece, Macedonia has effectively sealed off the main route into the Balkans, allowing just a trickle of people through. The move — backed by Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and Hungary — has ratcheted up pressure from the other side as Greek authorities don’t have enough shelter for those who are stranded.