January 24, 2020 / 3:58 PM / a month ago

Turkey rapporteur says EU ready to discuss more refugee support

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The European Union is prepared to discuss further support for Turkey over refugees from Syria, the European Parliament’s new rapporteur on Turkey said on Friday, describing cooperation over the issue as a channel for normalizing strained relations.

Turkey agreed with the European Union in 2016 to stem the flow into Europe of migrants fleeing Syria’s civil war, in return for financial support for some 3.6 million refugees in Turkey.

The deal, under which the bloc committed 6 billion euros up to the end of last year, sharply curtailed the number of Syrian refugees arriving in Europe.

Speaking after a week of talks in Turkey, Nacho Sanchez Amor said the agreement had delivered results but the Syrian refugee crisis persisted and could get worse.

Renewed bombardments by Russia-backed Syrian government forces in the country’s northwestern province of Idlib, home to some 3 million Syrians, have raised fears of a new migrant wave into Turkey.

“We register that the problem is still there,” the rapporteur told a news conference. “It could be even worse with people coming from Idlib. We are open to discuss the situation.”

The refugee accord was one positive element in an otherwise difficult relationship, he said. “The migration deal is the main island of normalizing relations between Turkey and the European Union.”

Turkey says EU membership remains one of its top goals even though accession talks, formally launched in 2004, have been stalled for years.

Some EU leaders and officials have called for them to be ended after a crackdown in Turkey, in which thousands of people were detained, following a failed 2016 military coup. President Tayyip Erdogan’s government says the response was justified by the scale of threats which the country faced.

Sanchez Amor said the EU was committed to Turkey’s accession process but that there was a lack of trust 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 media.

He singled out the cases of pro-Kurdish figure Selahattin Demirtas and philanthropist Osman Kavala, both in jail on terrorism charges as their trials continue. Critics have said the charges are politically motivated.

The rapporteur said the cases were “excellent opportunities” for Turkey to show it is committed to human rights and is approaching EU standards.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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