Refugees who arrive in Greece from Turkey will be sent back from Sunday under a new revised deal agreed at a Brussels summit on Friday, EU leaders have said.
During a two-day European Council summit, the 28 leaders agreed on Thursday for a revised deal to be put to Turkey the next day.
Donald Tusk, council president and other officials met with Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday morning to get Ankara’s approval.
Hours later, leaders from Finland and the Czech Republic said on Twitter that the deal was approved. The Turkey deal was approved, Findland’s Juha Sipilä said below.
Bohuslav Sobotka, the Czech prime minister, said: “Deal with Turkey approved. All illegal migrants who reach Greece from Turkey as of March 20 will be returned!”
Mr Tusk later said there was “now unanimous agreement between all EU HoSG and Turkey’s PM on EU-Turkey statement”. In an EU-Turkey statement, the two insisted the proposals would “end irregular migration from Turkey to the EU”.
In the statement, the EU said all new migrants entering the EU from Sunday would be returned to Turkey “in full accordance with EU and international law, thus excluding any kind of collective expulsion”.
It is understood that the ceiling for Europe taking refugees from Turkey in a migrant swap would be 72,000. Although March 20 has been chosen as the date from which migrants will be sent back, a senior Turkish official told Reuters “actual returns” would begin from April 4.
Ankara has also promised that it will not return migrants to their countries of origin after EU’s returns process.
When migrants arrive in Greece after March 20, they will be registered and applications will be processed individually by the Greek authorities working with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
In exchange for taking back refugees, only one chapter in Turkey’s EU accession process will be opened before summer, suggesting Ankara backed down on demands for five chapters to be launched.
The deal agreed that Turkey and EU would start talks on Chapter 33 which relates to budget and finances. Previously, France had blocked the chapter.
As part of any EU membership process, applicants must meet certain requirements which are in each chapter. Cyprus has blocked many chapters in the process but the one approved on Friday is not one of them, thereby giving Cyprus a victory in the talks.
Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, hailed the “historic day” after the deal was approved.
“It is also a historic day because we reached a very important agreement between Turkey and the EU,” Mr Davutoglu.
“We today realised that Turkey and the EU have the same destiny, the same challenges and the same future.”
But Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, admitted the deal would suffer setbacks as they faced legal challenges.
“I have no illusions that what we agreed today will be accompanied by further setbacks. There are big legal challenges that we must now overcome,” she said.
“But I think we’ve reached an agreement that has an irreversible momentum and it was very important for me that we managed to agree all that among the 28 today.”
‘Dark day for Europe’
Amnesty International described the deal agreed as a “dark day for Europe and humanity” as Oxfam’s migration policy lead Sara Tesorieri said the fail was a “further step down the path of inhumanity”.
“It’s absolutely shameful to see leaders seeking to abandon their legal obligations. Forcing refugees back into the hands of the very smugglers they just came from so they can have another go at exploiting them, is obviously a madness.
“There’s no way anyone should herald this as a solution,” said Kate Allen, Amnesty’s UK director, said.
Ms Tesorieri said: “Last week’s EU decision to ‘end’ the Balkans route has led to another humanitarian emergency, and taking this approach with the Turkey-Greece route is a further step down this path of inhumanity. The cost of European border control cannot continue to be paid with human lives.
Earlier in the day, Mr Erdogan accused Europe of hypocrisy and of “dancing in a minefield” by supporting terrorist groups.
“At a time when Turkey is hosting three million, 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,” he said on Friday morning.