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EU Welcomes Turkey's Plan To Take Back Migrants Illegally Entering Europe


European leaders held a summit with Turkey yesterday. They were all supposed to agree on how to manage their migrant crisis, which continues. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is watching this from Berlin and is here to tell us what really happened. Hi, Soraya.


INSKEEP: So what's the big idea these countries have been discussing?

NELSON: Well, it's a real game changer if it actually happens. But what Turkey is suggesting is that it will take back all what they call irregular migrants - in other words, people who are coming through their territory, doesn't matter their nationality, and then illegally try to go on to Europe - then basically anybody who goes to Greece, you know, to these islands, that they will take them all back. But they want something in return. And that's a real sticking point. And that is that for every Syrian they take back, that Europe in turn takes another Syrian in order to relocate and resettle them there.

INSKEEP: OK. So the Europeans also have to agree to deal with some of this ongoing crisis. What else do the Turks want?

NELSON: Well, for one thing, they want some of this or more of the $3 billion-plus that was agreed to late last year that Turkey would get for refugees - they're supposed to get this from the EU. The prime minister in Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu, is particularly angry about this 'cause he feels like people are saying, oh, the Turks want this money. He's like, no, this isn't for us. This for the Syrians. And so they're actually asking for more, apparently, than just the 3 billion. They want apparently another 3 billion on top of that, although the amount has not been made public. The other thing that Turkey wants is that it wants a reopening of accession talks to the EU. In other words, it wants to become an EU member. And it also wants a speeding-up of the waiver of visas for Turkish citizens who want to go to EU. They want that to happen as soon as June.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's really interesting. So the Turks want greater ties with Europe if they can get them. They've said they're willing to become, in effect, a warehouse for refugees who've come out of Syria, come from a lot of other places at this point. But I gather that they haven't been able to agree on how to put all this together with the Europeans?

NELSON: Yeah, I mean, the European leaders are just not very comfortable with these demands. Germany and France, for example, don't think that accession talks should be linked to the refugee crisis, Germany for economic reasons and France saying, you know what? This country has been cracking down on the press a lot lately. And, you know, why do we want to open talks sort of rewarding that behavior, if you will? At the same time, the Dutch and Austrians are saying they don't want to give any more money. They're getting kind of angry about what they feel is like hat-in-hand, you know, give me more. And then, in particular, Hungary, it led a number of countries last night in opposing any one-for-one swap. I mean, they don't want anymore refugees, certainly Muslim ones, coming to Europe.

INSKEEP: This raises so many interesting issues, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, one of them being that for years before this crisis, Turkey has wanted to be part of Europe. Hasn't it, this country on the edge of Europe, where the toehold in Europe? But Europeans have not been sure if they want a Middle Eastern nation in their midst.

NELSON: Absolutely. It's something that has gone on for quite awhile. And Turkey has not been successful in convincing, certainly, Germany that it's economically responsible enough. As you mentioned, there's also concern about having a Middle Eastern or, specifically, Muslim nation as being part of the European Union. And at the same time, right now with this particular Turkish government cracking down on the press and being so active in its bombing of Kurdish targets within Syria and sometimes within its own territory, these sorts of things give a lot of pause to the Europeans. At the same time, we're really seeing a lot of fractured - I mean, within the EU block itself, the summit just really highlights how divided Europeans are just about every question, not just Turkish accession but in the refugee crisis.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. She's in Berlin. Soraya, thanks as always.

NELSON: You're welcome, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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