Accessibility links

Breaking News

Turkey Pushes Again for Removal of EU Visa Requirements

Frontex Police officers stay near the border with Turkey as they are deployed to help Greek border police control crossing of illegal immigrants to Greece and Europe near Nea Vyssa, northeastern Greece (file)

Turkey is one of the EU's most important gatekeepers to illegal migration. But a row over visas is threatening the adoption of an agreement that Brussels sees as key to controlling the growing problem of illegal migration through Turkey.

According to the EU as many as 80,000 migrants are believed to have entered Greece from Turkey illegally. And that is why Brussels is pressing Ankara to agree to accept back people who've entered the EU illegally.

But Ankara says it will only agree to the so-called re-admission agreement if the EU eases visa requirements on its citizens.

"They might be two different issues, but for us they are connected," said Selim Yenel, deputy undersecretary for Bilateral Affairs and Public Diplomacy of the Turkish foreign ministry. "Unfortunately the EU must come to their senses.They have not done so Nothing is happening on the visa question and they want us to sign the re-admission agreement. Well sorry that is not going to happen."

Early Thursday, the Turkish government renewed its call for the European Union to remove visa requirements.

At a meeting in Ankara with the EU's new commissioner for enlargement, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu pressed the issue pointing out that the EU had waived visa requirements for three non-members - Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro - in December.

More than 45,000 migrants entered Greece illegally from Turkey last year, putting available facilities under severe strain, according to the Greek police. Greece also faces the possibility of being hit by a wave of migrants from Libya and other countries in the region. One Greek minister warned that the number could be as many as 300,000.

But diplomatic correspondent Semih Idiz says unless the EU eases its visas controls Ankara is in no mood to compromise.

"Turks are confronted with visas from Europe even though they are many businessmen who do business with Europe. There are thousands of students who go to Europe and Turkey is being treated as a third world country which has nothing but potential illegal immigrants," Idiz said. "For the government , the state and the population this is a demeaning situation."

But joint head of the European Green Party, Daniel Cohn Bendit, says Ankara has to realize what its asking for.

"Opening a free travel is an immense opening. Turkey is a big country," he said. "This is a debate I have had for 10 years with the Turks."

Turkey has been a candidate to join the 27-nation union since 1999 and accession talks began in earnest in 2005. But, observers warn that Turkey's tough stance on the re-admission agreement will do little to enhance Turkey's reputation in Brussels. The Turkish government insists protecting EU borders from illegal migration is just one of many reasons it has much to lose if its EU bid fails. As a senior Turkish foreign ministry official put it, Brussels has to understand it can't have its cake and eat it, too.