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EU Leaders Gather for Difficult Migrant Summit

  • Lisa Bryant

Refugees walk at the Oncupinar refugee camp for Syrian refugees next to the border crossing with Syria, near the town of Kilis in southeastern Turkey, Thursday, March 17, 2016.

Refugees walk at the Oncupinar refugee camp for Syrian refugees next to the border crossing with Syria, near the town of Kilis in southeastern Turkey, Thursday, March 17, 2016.

As European Union leaders gather for a two-day summit in Brussels on Thursday, doubts are mounting they will be able to reach agreement on a deal with Turkey to curb the tide of migrants arriving on their shores.

Even before the talks started in Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk struck a negative tone, saying he was more cautious than optimistic they would succeed. He said any migrant deal with Turkey must be based on three fundamental principles.

“First the agreement must be acceptable to all 28 member states, no matter big or small," said Tusk. "Second, the agreement must fully comply with EU and international law. And third, the agreement must effectively help to solve the migration crisis and contribute to our comprehensive strategy, which includes getting back to Schengen, ending the way through policy, humanitarian assistance to Greece, support to the western Balkans and of course, the reinforced cooperation with Turkey.”

EU leaders are discussing a draft proposal that sees Turkey taking back tens of thousands of asylum seekers now in Europe, in exchange for more aid, visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and accelerated EU membership talks.

FILE - Volunteers guide an overcrowded dingy with refugees and migrants as it is approaches the beach after crossing a part of the Aegean sea from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos, Feb. 19, 2016.

FILE - Volunteers guide an overcrowded dingy with refugees and migrants as it is approaches the beach after crossing a part of the Aegean sea from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos, Feb. 19, 2016.

The draft deal faces plenty of resistance, from legal and rights concerns, to threats by EU member Cyprus to block it.

As the nations confront Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II, the pressure is on for European leaders to stop bickering and solve the problem. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has taken in the majority of asylum seekers, calls the draft deal the “first real chance” to stem the migration flow.

EU migration minister Dimitris Avramopoulos described visiting Greece's rain-soaked border camp of Idomeni. Thousands are unable to move onward to Germany since Macedonia closed its frontier, and they distrust Greek reception centers.

“The conditions are awful," he said. "I cannot imagine they could live such a situation on European soil.”

He said Europe was bound by international conventions to help the migrants. It must show what he called its “human and civilized face.

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