EU to pitch migrant plan to Turkey but deal not certain
Updated: 2016-03-18 11:24
After a year in which more than a million people have arrived in Europe fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond, EU countries are looking desperately to Turkey to seal its coastline and stem the flow.
One senior EU official said that a lack of legal clarity in Turkey on the status of refugees from countries other than Syria - notably large numbers of Iraqis and Afghans - was a serious sticking point to Greece sending such people back.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, facing a build-up of more than 40,000 refugees stranded in Greece by recent border closures in the Balkans, said his economically struggling country needed more help to care for migrants.
EU officials said Greece also needed time to set up legal and administrative structures to carry out the deportations and grant migrants individual asylum and appeal hearings.
Diplomats said talks among the EU states had watered down inducements to Turkey and included new safeguards intended to overcome legal objections to sending back migrants.
Ankara's central objective - visa-free travel for Turks to Europe by June - will depend on Turkey meeting a raft of long-standing EU criteria. With French voters alarmed at the idea of 75 million Muslim Turks free to travel, Hollande stressed the need to fulfil all 72 prior conditions.
The draft, seen by Reuters, says the aim is "to break the business model of the (people) smugglers" and to offer migrants an alternative to putting their lives at risk. It stresses the return is "a temporary and extraordinary measure which is necessary to end the human suffering and restore public order".
Leaders set no date to start the scheme. Some want all those arriving on Greek beaches from next Monday to be held for deportation, but Athens says it needs weeks to prepare. Yet such delay may trigger a rush to cross before Europe shuts down.
Merkel said any hold-up would create a "pull factor".
She also said Europe must be ready to start resettling legal Syrian refugees directly from Turkey days after migrant returns starting from Greece.