Migrant crisis: Turkey and EU leaders close in on deal

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses media as he arrives for EU summit in Brussels. 18 March 2016. Image copyright AP
Image caption Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he wanted to keep a humanitarian perspective

European Union negotiators and Turkey have agreed a draft deal over the migrant crisis, which must now be approved by the 28 EU leaders.

Under the scheme, migrants arriving in Greece after midnight Sunday will be sent back to Turkey if their asylum claim is rejected.

In return, EU countries will resettle thousands of migrants from Turkey.

Both the Czech and Finnish leaders have indicated they and their counterparts will accept the deal.

For Turkey, the deal will also bring financial aid and faster EU membership talks.

But at the start of the talks Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, stressed he wanted to keep a "humanitarian perspective" on the crisis.

"The Turkey deal was approved," Finland's prime minister Juha Sipila wrote on Twitter, although this is yet to be confirmed by the other 27 members.

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Ahead of Friday's talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Turkey had to meet international standards of protection for all migrants.

She added that the EU needed to be ready to start returning migrants from Greece to Turkey rapidly to avoid a "pull factor" creating a surge of migrants before the new system takes effect.

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Media captionEU leaders have agreed a proposal on the migrant crisis to put to Turkey, as Katya Adler reports

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Europe should look at its own record on migrants before it told Turkey what to do.

In an uncompromising speech broadcast on television, he said: "At a time when Turkey is hosting three million (migrants), 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."

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite warned on Thursday that the plan to return people to Turkey was "on the edge of international law" and difficult to implement.

But arriving at the summit on Friday she said an agreement was possible because "it is important and necessary for both sides".

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Media captionIn the last six months, more than 100 migrants have been buried in a cemetery in Izmir
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Thousands of migrants and refugees have been camped at the Greece-Macedonia border

Mr Davutoglu has said he will not accept Turkey becoming an "open prison" for migrants.

To meet concerns over the plan's legality, the leaders discussed providing assurances that each person claiming asylum will be given a full hearing in Greece, the BBC's Damian Grammaticas reports from Brussels.

Human rights group Amnesty International placed a large screen outside the Brussels summit that read: "Don't trade refugees. Stop the deal."

Since January 2015, a million migrants and refugees have entered the EU by boat from Turkey to Greece. More than 132,000 have arrived this year alone.

Tens of thousands are now stuck in Greece as their route north has been blocked.

Greek Interior Minister Panagiotis Kouroublis has compared conditions at the Idomeni camp, on the border with Macedonia, to a Nazi concentration camp.

Crisis explained in seven charts

Under initial proposals, the EU had suggested it would double financial aid to Turkey promised last year, make a fresh push on talks over Turkey's eventual membership of the EU and offer visa-free travel to Europe's Schengen states.

However, those proposals have since been watered down, lowering expectation on greater financial help and talks on EU membership and linking visa-free travel to 72 conditions to which Turkey must agree.

A number of EU countries have raised concerns about what is on offer to Turkey amid a clampdown by the Ankara government on academics and journalists.

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.