EU leaders have agreed to extend a 2016 agreement with Turkey aimed at preventing migrants from reaching Europe. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the controversial deal has "proven its worth."
At a virtual meeting at which the EU Council members mainly discussed the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, the leaders said they wanted to continue dialogue with Turkey despite some "significant differences."
In a statement the Council welcomed the "recent de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean brought about by the discontinuation of illegal drilling activities, the resumption of bilateral talks between Greece and Turkey, and the forthcoming talks on the Cyprus question under the auspices of the United Nations."
Following the virtual meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that there was a need to maintain "contacts with Turkey at all levels" and to talk about common as well as conflicting interests.
Support for refugee deal
The German Chancellor also indicated her support for continuing the EU-Turkey migration deal. Under the five-year-old agreement, Turkey promised to seal its borders and take back irregular migrants from the Greek islands in exchange for around 6 billion euros from the EU.
"The [EU-Turkey Statement] has proven its worth," Merkel said. "It has reduced illegal migration. It has made it more difficult for people smugglers to operate. And above all it has helped many, many refugees."
The agreement has been criticized by many NGOs working in the humanitarian field. One such organization, Intersos, said on March 16 that the deal was all about a containment policy. Intersos stated: "over the years [the deal has] done nothing but trap people in endless waiting, depriving them of basic human dignity and forcing them to relive the same traumas."
A spokesperson at the International Rescue Committee, Imogen Sudbury, called it a "stain on the European Union's human rights record and people in search of protection (...) continue to pay the price."
Ankara said Friday that the European Union needs to take "concrete and constructive" steps on the issues of renewing the migration pact and visa liberalization, according to the German news agency, dpa.