BRUSSELS, The European Union on Sunday offered Turkey billions of dollars in aid as part of a deal to stanch the flow of migrants into Europe.
The E.U. will give the Ankara government $3.2 billion — and will revive talks for Turkey to enter the union — in exchange for it to keep Middle Eastern refugees inside Turkish borders.
The BBC quoted Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who stood in for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the meeting in Brussels, Belgium, as saying it was a “historic day” in relations between Turkey and the E.U.
Under the agreement, Turkish citizens may be allowed access to the E.U.’s 28 member states through the visa-free Schengen zone.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the most important part of the negotiations was to “replace illegal migration with legal migration,” and that while Turkey had so far sheltered more than 2 million Syrians, it “had received little international support for that and therefore rightly expects that the European Union and the member states attempt to lighten Turkey’s burden.”
The International Organization for Migration says 721,217 migrants arrived in Greece between Jan. 1 and Nov. 25, 2015, while 143,114 arrived in Italy over the same period. A vast majority came war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some E.U. officials expressed concerns about civil rights violations by the Erdogan administration against critics, journalists and the Kurdish minority. Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, reportedly said any cooperation with Turkey will “require respect for basic rights.”
“Our main goal is to stem the flow of migrants to Europe,” The New York Times quoted Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, as saying. Tusk added that Europe also needed to take additional steps to secure its own borders.
The deal comes after Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris in which at least 130 people were killed — as well as amid rising tensions after Turkey shot down a Russian jet fighter that it said violated Turkish air space near Syria last week.
By Fred Lambert