Turkey threatens to unilaterally suspend EU refugee deal

Days before the first anniversary of the deal, Turkey's top diplomat has vowed to "cancel" it if the EU fails to deliver on its part of the agreement. Relations with Germany and The Netherlands have taken a dive.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu late Wednesday threatened to suspend a refugee deal with the EU amid a widening diplomatic spat with Germany and The Netherlands.

"We may cancel the readmission agreement. The EU has been wasting our time on the visa liberalization issue. We are not applying the readmission agreement at the moment, and we are evaluating the refugee deal," Cavusoglu said during a televised interview with 24 TV.

Cavusoglu's remarks come days before the one-year anniversary of a deal between Brussels and Ankara that would allow for irregular migrants in Greece to be returned to Turkey in exchange for Syrian refugees hosted in the Anatolian nation.

Under the deal, Brussels said it would speed up EU accession talks and visa liberalization for Turkish nationals.

Human Rights | 27.01.2017

However, relations between the EU and Turkey have soured after Germany and The Netherlands prevented Turkish politicians, including Cavusoglu, from campaigning for a referendum slated for April that could expand Erdogan's powers as president.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Fleeing war and poverty

In late 2014, with the war in Syria approaching its fourth year and Islamic State making gains in the north of the country, the exodus of Syrians intensified. At the same time, others were fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Niger and Kosovo.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Seeking refuge over the border

Vast numbers of Syrian refugees had been gathering in border-town camps in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan since 2011. By 2015, with the camps full to bursting and residents often unable to find work or educate their children, more and more people decided to seek asylum further afield.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

A long journey on foot

In 2015 an estimated 1.5 million people made their way on foot from Greece towards western Europe via the "Balkan route". The Schengen Agreement, which allows passport-free travel within much of the EU, was called into question as refugees headed towards the wealthier European nations.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Desperate sea crossings

Tens of thousands of refugees were also attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats. In April 2015, 800 people of various nationalities drowned when a boat traveling from Libya capsized off the Italian coast. This was to be just one of many similar tragedies - by the end of the year, nearly 4,000 refugees were reported to have died attempting the crossing.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Pressure on the borders

Countries along the EU's external border struggled to cope with the sheer number of arrivals. Fences were erected in Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia and Austria. Asylum laws were tightened and several Schengen area countries introduced temporary border controls.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Closing the open door

Critics of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open-door" refugee policy claimed it had made the situation worse by encouraging more people to embark on the dangerous journey to Europe. By September 2016, Germany had also introduced temporary checks on its border with Austria.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Striking a deal with Turkey

In early 2016, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement under which refugees arriving in Greece could be sent back to Turkey. The deal has been criticized by human rights groups and came under new strain following a vote by the European Parliament in November to freeze talks on Turkey's potential accession to the EU.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

No end in sight

With anti-immigration sentiment in Europe growing, governments are still struggling to reach a consensus on how to handle the continuing refugee crisis. Attempts to introduce quotas for the distribution of refugees among EU member states have largely failed. Conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere show no signs coming to an end, and the death toll from refugee sea crossings is on the rise.

'Scared of migrants'

Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan responded to The Netherlands' decision to ban a rally in Rotterdam by claiming that a "spirit of fascism" was sweeping across Europe.

"Europe is heading towards being drowned in its own fears," Erdogan said during a televised speech. "Turkophobia is mounting. Islamophobia is mounting. They are even scared of migrants who take shelter there."

Ankara also suspended high-level relations with Amsterdam and blocked the Dutch ambassador to Turkey from returning to his post after leaving the country.

More than one million migrants entered the EU in 2015, many of them fleeing conflict and extreme poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Before closing the so-called Balkan route in early 2016, a significant portion of migrants arriving to the bloc departed from Turkey's Aegean coast.

Despite criticism from human rights organizations, political leaders across Europe have hailed the refugee deal with Turkey as a successful maneuver, saying it helped de-escalate a widening political crisis between member states on how to tackle the wave of migration.

ls/ (Reuters, dpa, AFP)