Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Tuesday that Ankara will scrap a landmark migrant readmission deal with the European Union unless the Europeans authorize visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.
Erdogan spoke in Istanbul at the close of a United Nations humanitarian conference called to address the massive migrant crisis stretching from Syria and Iraq to Turkey and countries of Western Europe.
If visa exemptions are not authorized, "no decision and no law in the framework of the readmission agreement will come out of the parliament of the Turkish Republic," said Erdogan.
Latest sign of rising tensions
Erdogan's blunt warning is the latest sign of rising Turkey-EU tensions that spiked after European leaders unveiled a plan in March to limit the flow of migrants through Turkey to the West. Under the deal, Europeans agreed to supply nearly $7 billion in aid to Ankara to help the government process migrants forcibly returned to Turkey from Greece.
Turkey linked the deal to visa-free travel, leading the United Nations and EU leaders to demand an array of Turkish human rights reforms aimed at easing the plight of migrants on Turkish soil.
If the standoff is not resolved, EU officials and diplomats say the EU will most likely miss an end-of-June deadline for granting visa-free travel.
The 28-nation EU bloc is dependent on Turkey to enforce the new rules blocking the flow of migrants to Western Europe, and for reprocessing those returned to Turkey.
For his part, Erdogan has scoffed at EU demands for human rights reforms and has repeatedly told supporters he would scuttle the deal in its entirety if visa-free travel is denied by Brussels.
Last month, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu — since fired by Erdogan — said his country's efforts to deter Syrian and Iraqi migrants from maritime crossings to Greece had cut migrant voyages from 6,000 in November to as few as 130 since early April.
But those efforts have come under heated criticism from human rights organizations, which accuse the Erdogan government of wholesale human rights violations as it seeks to curb the flow of migrants.
The global medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders withdrew from the humanitarian summit early this month, citing what it described as "shocking violations [by Turkey] of international humanitarian law and refugee rights."
Amnesty International on Monday cited the "complete collapse of humanitarian law" in Turkey, and accused the European union of "looking the other way when it comes to rights violations in Turkey itself."
Some material for this report came from AFP and Reuters.