Erdogan blasts EU on migrants

  • 19/03/2016
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (Reuters)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (Reuters)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has accused the European Union of hypocrisy over migrants, human rights and terrorism as his Prime Minister negotiated in Brussels over a deal to stem an influx of migrants and refugees into Europe.

Reacting to EU demands that Turkey change its laws to grant wider protection to migrants and to criticism of his crackdown on media freedom and domestic opponents, Erdogan said Europe was "dancing in a minefield" by directly or indirectly supporting terrorist groups.

Europeans needed to look at their own record on migrants before telling Turkey what to do, he said, adding that Ankara would only listen to EU criticism on rights when it was correct.

"At a time when Turkey is hosting three million, those who are unable to find space for a handful of refugees, who in the middle of Europe keep these innocents in shameful conditions, must first look at themselves," Erdogan said in a speech broadcast on television.

His combative tone contrasted with optimistic comments by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu when he arrived for talks with EU officials on a package of political and financial rewards which EU leaders agreed on Thursday in return for Turkey's willingness to take back all illegal migrants who cross into Europe.

The EU conditions fell short of Turkey's demands for more money, faster visa-free travel for Turks in Europe and an acceleration of Ankara's long-stalled EU membership talks.

After more than 1 million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond poured into Europe last year, most ending up in Germany, the EU is desperate to stem the flow but faces legal objections to blanket returns of migrants to Turkey.

Hence the EU leaders are insisting that Turkey legislate to extend interNational Standards of protection to non-Syrian migrants, a condition for Greece to be able legally to return asylum seekers.

A senior Turkish official told Reuters that Davutoglu would press the EU to open up new areas of negotiation on its long-stalled bid to join the bloc, despite a veto threat by Cyprus.

EU leaders have given negotiators a mandate to conclude an accord whereby Turkey would take back all migrants who reach Greek islands from its coast. In return the EU would take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey.

Turkey's human rights record has drawn growing criticism amid a crackdown on Kurdish separatists, arrests of critical journalists and the seizure of its best-selling newspaper.

EU officials said Greece also needed time to set up legal and administrative structures to carry out the deportations and grant migrants individual asylum and appeal hearings.

Ankara's central objective - visa-free travel for Turks to Europe by June - will depend on Turkey meeting a raft of long-standing EU criteria.