Turkey suspends migrant deal with EU as Greece's Idomeni camp evacuated

Turkey suspends migrant deal with EU as Greece's Idomeni camp evacuated

SBS World News Radio: Turkey's President has refused to continue implementing a migrant readmission agreement with the European Union until Turkish citizens are given visa-free access to the bloc.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey will block the deal it reached with the EU in March amid growing signs that visa liberalisation won't happen by the agreed deadline.

Under the deal between Turkey and the European Union, migrants who have arrived illegally in Greece are to be sent back to Turkey if they don't apply for asylum, or if their claim is rejected.

For each Syrian returned to Turkey, the EU is to receive another Syrian who has made a legitimate request.

In exchange, Turkish citizens were meant to be given visa-free travel to the EU by the end of June.

But that deadline looks unlikely to be met because the EU says Turkey still hasn't met certain conditions, including changes to its terror laws.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to do so, saying his government needs the laws to fight militants.

And during an appearance at a UN Humanitarian conference, he made his next move perfectly clear.

"Our ministers will hold talks. Our minister of foreign affairs and minister of European Union will hold these talks. If an agreement is not reached in these talks - no offence, but the legislation on taking necessary steps to implement the readmission agreement will not be approved in this parliament."

The deal has proven extremely effective so far in helping stem the flow of people pouring into Europe.

The International Organisation for Migration says nearly 27,000 people arrived in Greece in March, but in April, that number plunged by nearly 90 per cent.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman says the deal has also contributed to a sharp drop in people dying at sea.

"We recorded 1,370 deaths on the Mediterranean so far this year, which is of course an awful number, but it is actually 25 per cent below what we saw through this time last year. Obviously, now that the Turkey-Greece route appears suspended for the time being, we hope that this is the beginning of a sound management policy of refugees and migrants who wish to make the crossing and don't take these enormous risks."

But challenges remain in caring for those who've already made the journey.

On Greece's border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, authorities have begun dismantling a tent city in the town of Idomeni.

Over the next week, up to 8,000 people will be evacuated by bus to other sites around Greece, including its second-biggest city, Thessaloniki.

The government says asylum applications will be processed there but many migrants fear the conditions there will be even worse.

Viki Markolefa, from Doctors Without Borders, says many of those staying in the Idomeni camp have been experiencing depression and anxiety because they simply don't know what awaits them.

"We don't know where these people are being moved, and we are quite concerned whether the settlements are actually ready to host this big amount of people in a dignified way. This is just another development which is making them anxious."

Performers who've been entertaining thousands of children in the camp were hoping to make one final visit before the first wave of buses rolled out.

But Charlene Whitehead, from the Flying Seagull Project, had to settle for waving at them from the side of a highway.

"We just wanted to wave them off, they know us and we can't get in. We were hoping to get in to play with them because they need it, particularly now because it's so intense for them. There are so many children in each camp."

Authorities say closing the camp is the only way to ensure everyone's health and safety but many feel it's only transporting them further away from a future in Europe.

 

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