EU urges Turkey to do more to win visa-free travel

Sunday 12/06/2016
\'Turkey still needs to fulfil remaining benchmarks of roadmap\'

BRUSSELS - Turkey must still do more to meet the EU's conditions to win visa-free travel for Turks under a migrant crisis deal, for which the deadline is July 1, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

The European Union agreed in March to offer Turkey visa-free access, increased aid and speeded up accession talks in return for Ankara controlling the flood of migrants crossing into Greece.

But Turkey has yet to fulfil all of the conditions laid down by the European Commission for the visa agreement, including changes to Ankara's anti-terrorism laws to meet EU concerns over human rights.

"On visa liberalisation, Turkey still needs to fulfil the remaining benchmarks of the roadmap so that visa requirements for Turkey citizens can be lifted soon," said Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

He was unveiling the latest report by the commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU, on the progress of the migrant deal agreed at a summit in Brussels.

Avramopoulos insisted Turkey had made "spectacular" progress by so far fulfilling 65 of the 72 benchmarks set by Brussels "and our people work together with the Turkish authorities to accomplish this goal".

"Turkey has committed to meeting the rest of the benchmarks to allow for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and we expect them to come to this commitment," he added.

"We are moving ahead."

Turkey's Europe minister has admitted there is no chance of completing the deal on visa-free travel to the EU by the July 1 deadline.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that the visa exemption must be introduced by October at the latest. Ankara has threatened to scrap the migrant deal with the EU altogether if visa-free travel is not forthcoming.

"There are some problems today, there are some ups and downs," a senior Turkish official told reporters just ahead of the commission report's publication.

The commission said migrant arrivals had dramatically dropped because of the deal, to just 47 a day during May compared to a massive 1,740 a day before the deal.

Under the deal 462 irregular migrants who had not applied for asylum had been returned from Turkey to Greece, it added.

Meanwhile, the EU had resettled 511 Syrians from Turkey under a "one for one" clause in the deal, under with the EU takes in one Syrian from camps in Turkey for every Syrian that Turkey takes back from the Greek islands.

More than one million refugees and migrants have flooded into Europe since the start of 2015 in the biggest such crisis to hit the continent since World War II.