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Turkey dismisses EU plan for refugees

European plans to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees a year directly fromTurkey in return for Ankara closing the borders to further migration, have been dismissed as unworkable by a senior Turkish official, hampering the EU’s attempts to get to grips with the crisis.

The official warned of a new “tsunami” of Syrian refugees hitting Turkey andEurope as a result of the assault on the northern city of Aleppo being waged by the Russians and the Syrian regime.

The European commission, meanwhile, called for the deportation of asylumseekers from the rest of Europe to Greece and Turkey, the two pivotal countries bearing the brunt of the influx from the Middle East. The commission proposal is unlikely to have much impact on the crisis because deportations to Greece are banned under court rulings while returns to Turkey would only affect those with little chance of obtaining asylum.

The Turkish response to the Dutch-led plan for direct resettlement and the likely minimal impact of the proposals from Brussels highlighted both the poverty and confusion of the EU policy responses to the crisis and its desperation in the quest for answers.

The Dutch, currently chairing the EU, are pushing a scheme for EU volunteer countries, including Germany, to take 250,000 refugees a year from Turkey, but only if Ankara succeeds in closing the Aegean sea routes on which hundreds of thousands are travelling to Greece.

“Forget it,” said Selim Yenel, Turkey’s ambassador to the EU. “It’s unacceptable. And it’s not feasible.”

Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, went to Ankara earlier this week to try to engineer a breakthrough with the Turks, but to little evident effect. In Ankara she spoke publicly for the first time about “resettling” refugees directly from Turkey.

It was the sixth time since October that Merkel has negotiated with the Turks, and she is to meet the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, again next week. Diplomats in Brussels say they have no idea why she went to Ankara, while the German media are sneering that Merkel sees Turkish cabinet ministers more often than her own.

“If Turkey is not engaged, not committed and doesn’t start to deliver … it will be very difficult to manage the situation,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU commissioner in charge of migration. “If they really want, they can do the job on the ground.”

For Ankara, such remarks smack of European hypocrisy and arrogance, since Turkey is already hosting up to three million Syrians. The EU is currently pressing the Turks to open its southern borders to 70,000 Syrians in flight from fighting around Aleppo, while simultaneously demanding that Ankara close the western and northern routes to Europe.

“We’re surprised that the Europeans should say we should open the borders to Syrians from Aleppo when we’ve been doing that for five years,” Yenel said. “It is all unfolding, another tsunami. How are we going to cope?”

Avramopoulos unveiled new plans to force Turkey and Greece to take asylum seekers back from the rest of Europe. Under a readmission agreement with Ankara from June, the Turks are supposed to take back third-country nationals who entered the EU via Turkey.

But the scheme would not apply to Syrians, who are virtually assured of successful asylum claims in the EU, and perhaps also Iraqis and Afghans. Of the 70,000 who crossed from Turkey to Greece last month, 90% were of those three nationalities, according to international agencies monitoring the flows.

Returning asylum seekers to Greece from elsewhere in the EU has been outlawed by the European court of justice since 2011 because of “degrading” conditions. But Avramopoulos demanded that Athens improve the conditions to facilitate returns to Greece, and gave Athens a month to deliver.

The proposed deportations to Greece and Turkey are hamstrung by multiple legal, humanitarian and political problems, and the necessary procedures would take a long time to get in place. Neither option offers a quick fix for an EU increasingly desperate to find a formula for relieving the migratory pressure.

The commission issued Athens with a list of instructions to bring Greece into line with EU norms on refugee policy, including improving living conditions for asylum seekers and overhauling judicial procedures so people denied leave to remain have the right to appeal. Reception centres must ensure adequate staffing, so Greek authorities can deal with more asylum cases, the commission said.

Greece is under huge pressure from Berlin and Brussels to stem the flow, with some EU governments happy to see the country kicked out, at least temporarily, of the 26-country free-travel Schengen area.

Under the so-called Dublin procedure regulating migration in the EU, asylum seekers can be sent back to the first EU country they entered. Germany unilaterally abrogated the Dublin system last September when it opened its doors unconditionally to Syrians.

While EU governments insist that Athens observe the Dublin procedure, they also agree that Dublin is dysfunctional. The commission is to unveil a reform blueprint for the system next month, triggering yet another bruising battle between governments.

Source: The Guardian

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