The EU denied Wednesday (16 March) that its planned deal to return all migrants who land in Greece to Turkey would break international law, saying there would be no mass expulsions.
“There can be no blanket returns,” European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans told a press conference on the eve of a summit at which Brussels and Ankara hope to seal the agreement.
“We are not turning our back on the refugees because they will be assured adequate international protection, either in the EU or in Turkey.”
Timmermans added: “Returns can only take place in accordance with the international and EU legal framework… the case of each person needs to be assessed individually in the light of the charter of fundamental rights and European directives.”
Under the plan hailed as a “game-changer”, Turkey would seek to stop the dangerous sea journeys of refugees and take back all illegal migrants from Greece.
For each Syrian it takes back, it would send another one on to the EU in a more orderly redistribution programme.
EU President Donald Tusk who will host the summit has admitted the deal needs to be “rebalanced”, especially in terms of whether it is legal when it comes to the right to seek asylum and how such a request is processed.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday said the EU must stand firm on pushing for press freedom and Kurdish minority rights in Turkey, as it seeks a deal with Ankara to resolve the migrant crisis.
“It goes without saying … that we voice our convictions to Turkey regarding, for instance, the protection of press freedom or the treatment of the Kurds,” Merkel said. Turkey’s bid to join the EU is “not on the agenda now”, she added.
“Negotiations with Turkey on EU membership are open-ended — they are really not on the agenda now,” said Merkel, adding that conditions for allowing Ankara into the bloc “remain unchanged and will not be changed”.