2016-03-18 11:53:00

EU leaders present controversial refugee plan to Turkey

(Vatican Radio)  European Union leaders have agreed on a plan to send tens of thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty back to Turkey, despite concerns expressed by human rights groups and EU legislators. The proposal was to be presented to Turkey's prime minister later Friday.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report:

Desperate to ease the pressure placed on Europe's borders by the arrival of more than 1 million migrants in a year, the EU turned to Turkey to stem the flow of refugees into overburdened Greece.

Under a controversial plan agreed at late night talks in Brussels, the European Union would outsource Europe's biggest refugee emergency since World War to Turkey, despite concerns over its asylum system and reported human rights abuses.

The plan would mean that the EU can send often desperate people back to Turkey in exchange for paying billions of dollars in aid and political concessions.

Many returned

EU leaders claim those being returned are new migrants arriving in Greece who don't qualify for asylum back to Turkey.

For every migrant returned, the EU would accept one Syrian refugee, for a total of 72,000 people to be distributed among European states.

The process would be supervised by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, which has however expressed concerns over EU policies including the building of fences in Hungary and other member states to keep refugees out of the 28 nation block.

The EU planned trying to convince Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to accept the deal later on Friday.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose nation holds the rotating EU presidency, acknowledged that reaching an agreement had not been easy.

Turkey blackmail? 

Some even accused Turkey of blackmail saying it was cynically trying to exploit the situation to win concessions well beyond its reach under normal circumstances.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the plan was crucial to support Greece, which has been struggling to accommodate tens of thousands of refugees. "we have to support Greece not only with respect to the return of illegal migrants to Turkey but also with regard to the situation in which Greece finds itself right now. Funds will be necessary in order to provide shelter for refugees in Greece,” she said.

Yet, several human rights groups and leading EU legislators have already condemned the plan as a cynical cave-in, sacrificing universal rights to calm a restless electorate fed up with hosting people who are fleeing war and poverty.

Even some leaders acknowledged the EU's plan was controversial with Lithuanian President Dalia Grubauskaite calling it "on the edge of international law." 

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