Turkish FM: We’ll take steps in refugee deal if visa liberalization not realized

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu gives a speech on March 12, 2017 at the congress hall in the French eastern city of Metz, during a meeting to support Turkish president ahead of an April referendum that would boost his powers. The meeting, organised by a Turkish association, takes place after Dutch authorities barred Cavusoglu from entering the Netherlands, where he, too, had planned to campaign for the April referendum. The Netherlands, which holds general elections on March 15, 2017, had repeatedly said Cavusoglu was not welcome to campaign for the referendum in the country and refused his plane permission to land. / AFP PHOTO / JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN

Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Tuesday that the government could take steps against a readmission agreement, or refugee deal, between Turkey and the European Union if the EU fails to liberalize visa requirements for Turkish citizens.

Speaking in Edirne, Çavuşoğlu said, addressing the EU: “We see that the EU has been keeping us on hold. Our patience is not unlimited. Our citizens have expectations, too,” in reference to visa-free travel to Europe.

Turkey promised to take back refugees who illegally cross to the EU in return for financial assistance and a promise of visa liberalization in a deal signed in 2015.

“If no visa liberalization is realized, we will take the relevant steps regarding the refugee deal,” Çavuşoğlu threatened, in yet another remark playing the refugee card against the EU.

Çavuşoğlu stated that Turkey has met the requirements of the refugee deal up until the present time.

The agreement between Turkey and the EU signed on March 18 of last year sets out measures for reducing Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II, including stepped-up checks by Turkey and the shipping back to Turkish territory of migrants who arrive in Greece.

In return, Turkey is slated to receive benefits including visa-free travel for its citizens to Europe, which in the accord was promised “at the latest” by June 2016. Turkey is also to receive up to the end of 2018 a total of 6 billion euros in financial aid for the over 2.7 million Syrian refugees it is hosting.

Turkey, however, has refused to revise its anti-terror laws, which Brussels insists are not compatible with European justice standards, thus deadlocking the visa liberalisation part of the deal.

Following a vote in the European Parliament in favor of freezing membership talks with Turkey last November, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also threatened to open the border gates to Europe for millions of Syrian refugees.

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