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Turkey, EU reach action plan on refugees

The European Commission and Turkey have agreed on an action plan to boost cooperation on the refugee crisis. The plan aims address key factors pushing refugees from Turkey to the EU.

The joint plan released Tuesday would boost cooperation to handle the growing refugee crisis, including establishing six new refugee centers in Turkey and upping cooperation between the Turkish and Greek coast guards.

The tentative plan released following discussions between the European Commission and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, commits the EU to providing up to an additional 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) to Turkey to "address key factors that push the refugees to move from Turkey to the EU."

Turkey has taken in an estimated 2.2 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees at a cost of nearly 6.75 billion euros ($7.6 billion). Not all refugees have been registered, but under the action plan Turkey would aim to register refugees and quickly determine their asylum status.

The goal is to stem the disorderly flow of migrants to Europe and establish a process whereby some legitimate asylum seekers could enter the EU in an orderly manner through resettlement schemes and programs.

At the same time, Turkey has agreed to better integrate Syrian and Iraqi refugees through, among other things, providing work permits, further educational opportunities and healthcare.

Protection and rights

Turkey considers Syrian refugees as "guests," but last year the government pushed forward a series of laws that aimed to grant them temporary protection and greater rights. However, the measures still fell short of full refugee status.

In addition to addressing the so-called "push factors" driving refugees from Turkey to the EU, the two sides also agreed to step up cooperation to stop migrants from entering the EU across land and sea borders.

The EU will provide further assistance to the Turkish coast guard and border forces, which will expand cooperation with EU's FRONTEX and Bulgarian and Greek authorities. The EU and Turkey will also increase cooperation against criminal networks and human traffickers.

Visa-free travel for readmission

Turkey has long coveted visa-free travel for its citizens. An earlier EU-Turkey agreement set out a plan to provide that for Turkish citizens - in exchange for Turkey agreeing to take back migrants who had entered the EU via Turkey but were not granted asylum.

Under the agreement reached on Tuesday, the EU will accelerate this process to grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel to the EU.

Many of the people entering the EU from Turkey are economic migrants seeking a better life in Europe. This group generally doesn't qualify for asylum status in the EU, but seeks to enter the bloc through Turkey due to the country's lax visa procedures.

Under the agreement reached on Tuesday, Turkey agreed to "step up cooperation and accelerate procedures in order to smoothly readmit irregular migrants who are not in need of international protection" when they are intercepted by EU authorities having come from Turkish territory.

The two sides also agreed to step up cooperation to send migrants not granted asylum back to their country of origin.

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