SYRIAN refugees were last night given 24 hours to make it to Greece – after EU leaders handed Turkey nearly £5 billion to close the Med to thousands of migrants, The Sun reports. After exhaustive talks in Brussels, the EU struck an agreement to send any migrant arriving in Greece from midnight on Saturday back to Turkey – and to stop boats en route.
In exchange, the EU will take ‘vulnerable’ refugees direct from camps on the Syrian border. As part of the deal, the EU pledged to waive visa restrictions on 77 million Turks visiting much of mainland Europe- subject to Turkey meeting a list of conditions. Eurosceptics immediately claimed this would effectively create a giant “border less zone” stretching from Syria to Calais.
Turkey will also get up to £4.6 billion in aid and was promised accelerated talks on full EU membership. The deal threatens to create horrific scenes on the Greek islands tonight as refugees rush to meet the midnight deadline in a bid to reach the EU. It came as staggering figures revealed nearly 150,000 migrants have used the ‘eastern Med’ route and crossed the Aegean Sea to reach Greece so far this year – meaning 997,000 since the start of 2014.
PM David Cameron last night hailed the deal as a “good thing” which will put people smugglers out of business in Turkey – as there was no point any migrant getting on a boat. He said: “For the first time in this crisis, I believe we have a plan, if properly and fully implemented, that really could help to make a difference.”
But furious Eurosceptics and human rights groups tore into the EU leaders. Amnesty International said it defies belief the EU could be turning away Syrians fleeing Aleppo with genuine asylum claims. Kate Allen, Amnesty’s UK Director, said: “This is a dark day for the Refugee Convention, a dark day for Europe and a dark day for humanity.
“It’s absolutely shameful to see leaders seeking to abandon their legal obligation.” Arch Tory Eurosceptic Peter Bone insisted the deal put the UK in a “very dangerous position”. He stormed: “Although the deal allows Turkey visa free travel just to the Schengen area, it is the first step on the way to allowing them visa free access to the UK.
“While we remain in the EU, we have to accept whatever it tells us to do.” The PM dismissed the claim as “scare tactics” and insisted the visa free agreement didn’t cover the UK. And he added the UK would not have to take any more migrants beyond the 20,000 Syrians the Government has committed to resettle by 2020.
Under the agreement Turkey has to meet 72 conditions to unlock visa free travel to the so-called ‘Schengen’ zone for its citizens. These include issuing passports with microchips that carry the fingerprints of the holders, improving police cooperation with neighbouring EU states and Europol.
Other necessary steps include better protecting the rights of its Roma population and stepping up the fight against corruption and organised crime. UKIP chief Nigel Farage immediately blasted the deal as the “worst of all possible worlds”. He said: “Giving visa free access to Turkey will mean increased numbers of people coming to Europe. “And fast tracking an unstable Turkey into EU membership is madness.” Referring to the referendum, he added: “I feel more confident than ever that Turkey IN means Britain OUT.”
Matthew Elliott Vote Leave ‘The EU is creating a visa-free zone stretching from the English Channel to the Syrian border and has given Turkey the nod that it will be admitted as full member of the European Union. “That will be bad for Turkey, bad for people seeking refuge, and bad for Britain as the EU is an outdated and outmoded institution incapable of dealing with challenges of the 21st century.
“This shows just how risky it is to vote to remain in the EU. If we want control of our borders, our economy and our democracy we must Vote Leave on 23 June.” Earlier yesterday, Turkey’s PM Ahmet Davutoglu insisted: “For Turkey, the refugee issue is not an issue of bargaining, but values.” Mr Davutoglu added he hoped that beyond helping the refugees, the deal would “deepen EU-Turkey relations”.
The EU insisted the deal would have clear commitments that the rights of legitimate refugees would be respected and treated according to international and EU law. In the Idomeni camp on the Greek-Macedonian border, Muhammad Hassan, a Syrian from the devastated city of Aleppo, was looking for relief from the talks in Brussels and wondered why a continent of 500 million people could not deal with the situation.
“Europe have only 1 million” migrants, Hassan said. “How come it’s difficult?” he asked, comparing the EU to Lebanon, a nation of 5.9 million. “If a small country takes 3 million refugees and didn’t talk, how about Europe?