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Turkey threatens to suspend refugee deal amid crises with EU

Days before the first anniversary of a landmark refugee deal with the European Union, Turkey's foreign minister has vowed to "cancel" it, widening the diplomatic row with the Netherlands and Germany amid a general debate on Ankara's long standing bid to join the block.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday threatened to suspend a refugee deal with the EU, sending shock waves across Europe.

"We may cancel the readmission agreement unilaterally. 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. All of this is under our hands," said Turkey's top diplomat during a televised interview.

Ankara has threatened to scrap the deal many times before. But Cavusoglu's remarks on TV 24 channel came only three days before the one-year anniversary of a deal brokered between Brussels and Ankara that would allow for irregular migrants in Greece, the starting point of the trek to northern Europe, to be returned to Turkey in exchange for Syrian refugees hosted on Turkish soil.

Under the deal, Brussels said it would speed up EU accession talks and visa liberalization for Turkish nationals, which is far from becoming reality.

However, relations between the EU and Turkey have soured after Germany and the Netherlands prevented Turkish politicians, including Cavusoglu, from campaigning for April 16 referendum that would, if approved, give executive powers to incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The dominant Turkish leader accused Germany and the Netherlands of "fascist actions" for cancelling several planned rallies of his ministers.

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

Erdogan wants to win the votes of large Turkish populations ahead of the key referendum which critics argued that will confirm his authoritarian rule. The diaspora's votes could prove critical in what is expected to be a closely fight contest.

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 Balkan route in early 2016, a significant portion of migrants heading to the bloc departed from Turkey's Aegean coast amid tragic sea accidents.

But Erdogan said that the EU had broken its promise of granting visa free for Turks, and his country is paying high price of welcoming more than three million refugees, making it the country with the largest refugee population.

The interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, went even further on Friday warning of opening the way "to send 15,000 migrants per day towards Europe."

Other Turkish politicians, on the other hand, urged calmness to resolve this explosive crisis with Europe, such as the leader of the nationalists in the parliament, Devlet Bahceli.

"Migrants should not be used as a diplomatic weapon. Patience is needed," said Bahceli, who supports Erdogan's bid for a presidential system in Turkey.

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.

After the arrests of journalists and academics, and detention of tens of thousands in the wake of a failed coup last summer in Turkey, along with a suggestion of restoring the death penalty, the EU has been very critical of human rights violations infuriating Ankara, tired of being kept waiting at the EU's doorstep for decades.

EU leaders also staunchly backed Germany and the Netherlands in its row with Ankara. "Turkey is distancing itself from the EU," declared the commission president Jean-Claude Junker.

"Is it the EU or Turkey which is parting ways? We have been waiting for so long and our membership demands are dragging on and on for ages," said an official from the ruling Justice and Development party in Ankara.

"They (EU) have to decide if a Muslim country will be a full member of the union. We have done everything for that and the Turkish people are fed up of waiting," he said, preferring to stay anonymous.

Cengiz Aktar, senior scholar at Istanbul's policy centre, told Xinhua that if things go worse, there could be a potential risk of rupture in the accession talks launched between Ankara and Brussels in 2005.

"There is a risk of a formal breakdown but let's not forget that these negotiations at now already at a still stand because of Austria's refusal to open new chapters of accession, so nothing will actually change," Aktar said in a pessimistic mood while Turkish opinion support to the landmark project is at a record low.

"Turkey-EU is a closed file," added the European affairs expert.

[Source: By Burak Akinci, Xinhua, Ankara, 17Mar17]

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small logoThis document has been published on 17Mar17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.