THE leaders of the 28 EU countries and Turkey have unanimously reached a landmark deal aimed at halting illegal migration to Europe.
Under the controversial agreement, new migrants arriving in Greece from Sunday who do not qualify for asylum will be sent back to Turkey in operations paid for by the EU.
In the “one in, one out” deal, for every illegal migrant that Turkey accepts, the EU would resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkish camps, amid the biggest migration crisis since World War Two.
There is a target figure of 72,000 Syrians to be distributed among European states.
The aim is to reduce the incentive for Syrian refugees to board dangerous smugglers’ boats to Europe, as around 4,000 people have drowned while trying to cross the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.
Following the two-day summit, Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the agreement, saying it could “significantly” reduce numbers of migrants crossing the eastern Mediterranean to enter Greece by boat.
And Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called it an “historic day”.
But there are doubts over whether the plan is within the law or workable, with Germany’s leader Angela Merkel admitting the pact will have setbacks and legal challenges.
The EU will also offer Turkey – currently home to 2.7 million Syrian refugees – up to 6bn euros (£4.6bn) in aid, faster EU membership talks and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU.
Last year, around a million migrants and refugees entered the EU by boat from Turkey to Greece and tens of thousands of others have arrived in 2016.
More than 46,000, who want to go to Germany and other richer nations, are currently trapped in Greece as their northern route is blocked after Austria and several Balkan countries stopped letting refugees through.
Greece wants refugees to move from the Idomeni camp by the Macedonian border to organised shelters.
European Council president and summit chairman Donald Tusk made the announcement of a deal in a tweet.
He wrote: “Now unanimous agreement between all EU HoSG (Heads of State or Government) and Turkey’s PM on EU-Turkey Statement.”
After a morning of talks with Mr Davutoglu, Mr Tusk recommended the 28 EU member states approve the text without changes and they rapidly agreed at a summit lunch in Brussels.
“Agreement with Turkey approved. All illegal migrants who arrive to Greece from Turkey starting March 20 will be returned!” Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka tweeted from inside the meeting.
Sky’s Senior Political Correspondent Sophy Ridge said whatever was agreed on paper may not deter the wave of desperate refugees on the move.
“Leaders may be desperate for a deal, but many think its unenforceable, some even illegal,” she said.
“The concerns over visa-free travel for Turks won’t go away. Turkey’s price, they say, is simply too high.”
She added: “The aim of this summit was to break the traffickers’ business model and to send a message that the unofficial routes to Europe will no longer work.
“But these are desperate refugees, and if one route closes to them they may make other, more perilous, journeys.” SkyNews
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