Progress on EU migration crisis "significant" - President

European Union/Turkey/migration – Press conference by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, following the meeting of heads of state and government from the European Union and Turkey (excerpts)

Brussels, 8 March 2016

Significant progress was made today and last night on how Europe must address the problems, the refugee crisis. Preparations for this progress had been under way for several days. As you remember, Chancellor Merkel came to Paris, and work was also done with the Turkish Prime Minister – first on Sunday evening, but also with Donald Tusk, the European Council President, and of course during the lunch at this extraordinary meeting of the European Council.

Why was there progress? The goal is to halt the illegal transportation of refugees or migrants from Turkey to Greece, and it was finally agreed that there had to be a policy based on three principles: the security of the EU’s external borders, effective cooperation with Turkey, and substantial assistance to Greece, because it’s Greece that is currently responsible for not only the external border but also the flow of refugees who can no longer leave Greece and who are still there.

So I’m picking up on those three principles, to illustrate what was decided today and last night.

Security of vessels: so we’ll strengthen the NATO fleet in the Aegean Sea, and the Turks will be prompted to take charge of people-smugglers’ vessels that have been spotted, found and escorted to port by the NATO fleet and the European coastguard. Security also for the “hot spots” which are in charge of overseeing the refugees or migrants themselves. So security means going back to the Schengen principles and the European rules.

Second illustration, second principle: cooperation with Turkey. One very important point was endorsed today, namely the agreement with Turkey to readmit those refugees and migrants who arrive illegally on European shores, i.e. in Greece. In other words, this means Turkey would take back those migrants and refugees, and so they’d be resettled, as it were, in Turkey. Irregular migrants, moreover, have no place remaining in Turkey and would return to their countries of origin. Syrians who arrive on the Greek coast by illegal means would also be returned, readmitted, to Turkey. But in order for Europe to continue guaranteeing its role of welcoming families or people in danger, there would be resettlement in Europe for (…) other Syrians, who would come to Europe legally.

Insofar as Turkey is taking this very important action of readmitting, taking back those refugees and migrants who left Turkey illegally for Greece, insofar as Turkey is making this gesture, conducting this policy, taking this strict approach, then there may be what’s called a liberalization of visas for Turks, but according to the rules originally set: the so-called Visa Roadmap.

Next, the third principle, the third illustration of progress: assistance to Greece. Greece must be helped in several ways, firstly because Greece must create its “hot spot” centres. Four are already in place; a fifth is about to be operational. France will also join Europe in lending its support to Greece for the functioning of those centres, which are essential to the mechanism.

Next, Greece must be helped, because those refugees who are currently there must be relocated and so, in a way, distributed according to the rules between European countries. France is also doing its duty from this point of view, in relation to the commitments I’ve made, and this very day 148 Syrians are being taken into France according to this relocation procedure.

The third item of assistance that must be provided to Greece is humanitarian aid. Let me remind you there are 30,000 refugees in Greece and there may be more in the coming days. Greece will receive €300 million this year, €200 million in 2017 and €200 million in 2018. France will also add its own contribution to the humanitarian aid.

So Europe has today created goals and instruments enabling us to say there will ultimately be no more illegal flows. Of course there will always be attempts. There will always be smugglers, even if we combat that despicable traffic. But in a way, if the security of the borders is guaranteed, if Turkey does its duty in terms of readmission and if help is provided to Greece, it’s a complete provision enabling us to return to Schengen. That will no doubt take a little more time. These approaches and decisions must also be specified, as far as possible, for the next European Council meeting, but we finally have consistency and European action based not only on goals but on instruments that can be effective.

To achieve this, it was necessary to talk, to negotiate – firstly among Europeans but also with Turkey. Turkey is taking charge of hosting a lot of refugees: 2.5 million today. Turkey is undergoing the consequences of the war in Syria and is a victim of terrorism. So Turkey must also be helped in what it’s doing, but it must also be supported in what it must do, and particularly those readmission procedures and the fight against trafficking and smugglers. Turkey will also – and this was a decision that had already been taken – benefit from €3 billion in aid from the European Union over the coming months. If necessary, this aid can be increased if the refugee problem – as is likely – still persists in 2018.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be vigilant as regards Turkey, particularly in relation to the press, freedoms and the law. Insofar as there’s a desire on Turkey’s part – and this timetable was already planned, incidentally – to move towards the negotiation of chapters for Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, this vigilance must be stepped up further.

At the European Council meeting, several voices – I’d almost say all of them – were raised about what’s happened in recent days concerning the press in Turkey. Just because the EU and Turkey cooperate – and that’s necessary –, just because Europe helps Turkey – and that’s essential –, just because Turkey itself is being struck [by terrorism] – and there too it deserves our consideration and solidarity –, that doesn’t mean we must overlook violations of rights or freedoms.

That’s why this Council meeting – which was long and extraordinary, because there will be another European Council meeting next week – managed to cast a ray of hope: hope that the refugee issue can be handled by Europe with solidarity and effectiveness, through this cooperation with Turkey, with respect for people and also with a determination for everyone to honour their commitments.

France won’t shirk, either from the assistance it will provide to Greece or from the support it will lend to the NATO force, the border guards and the “hot spots”. France won’t shirk, either, from its commitments to take in refugees. The figure of 30,000 was set in September 2015. That’s still our goal and our promise. (…)./.

Published on 05/07/2016

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