Turkish rapporteur says EU ready to discuss more support for refugees

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The European Union is ready to discuss further support for Turkey regarding refugees from Syria, the European Parliament's new rapporteur on Turkey said on Friday, describing cooperation on the issue. as a way to normalize strained relationships.

Turkey agreed with the European Union in 2016 to limit the flow to Europe of migrants fleeing the civil war in Syria, in exchange for financial support for some 3.6 million refugees in Turkey.

The deal, under which the bloc has committed 6 billion euros until the end of last year, has greatly reduced the number of Syrian refugees arriving in Europe.

Speaking after a week of talks in Turkey, Nacho Sanchez Amor said the deal had worked, but the Syrian refugee crisis persisted and could worsen.

Renewed bombing by Russian-backed Syrian government forces in the northwestern province of Idlib, home to some 3 million Syrians, has raised fears of a new wave of migrants in Turkey.

"We see that the problem persists," said the rapporteur at a press conference. "It could be even worse with people from Idlib. We are open to discuss the situation. "

The refugee agreement is a positive part of an otherwise difficult relationship, he said. "The migration agreement is the main island for normalizing relations between Turkey and the European Union."

Turkey claims that EU membership remains one of its main objectives, even though the accession negotiations, officially launched in 2004, have stalled for years.

Some EU leaders and officials have called for their removal after a crackdown in Turkey, in which thousands of people were arrested, following a failed military coup in 2016 The government of President Tayyip Erdogan said the response was justified by the scale of the threats the country was facing.

Sanchez Amor said that the EU was committed to the Turkish accession process but that there was a lack of confidence on both sides, urging Turkey to work with the EU on reforms to improve the rule of law, judicial independence and freedom of expression and of the media.

He singled out the cases of pro-Kurdish figure Selahattin Demirtas and philanthropist Osman Kavala, both in prison for terrorism while their trials continue. Critics have said the charges were politically motivated.

The rapporteur said that these cases were "excellent opportunities" for Turkey to show that it is committed to human rights and that it is approaching human rights standards. l & # 39; EU.

Report by Ali Kucukgocmen; edited by Philippa Fletcher

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