Turkey says it will abandon deal stemming flow of refugees if it doesn’t get EU visa freedom in October

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claims: ‘It can’t be that we implement everything that is good for the EU but that Turkey gets nothings in return’

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
Monday 15 August 2016 14:11 BST
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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made the comments in an interview
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made the comments in an interview (AFP)

Turkey has once again threatened to abandon its promise to stem the flow of refugees into Europe if it is not granted EU visa liberalisation by October.

The deal with Brussels was expected to see 80 million Turks given visa-free travel in Europe’s Schengen Area. The measure was drawn up as part of Turkey’s agreement to close its internal border and stop refugees travelling to Europe, while also agreeing to take back refugees that had travelled to places such as Greece.

But in an interview with German newspaper Bild, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu suggested this promise could be withdrawn if the visas are no longer on the table.

Asked whether hundreds of thousands of refugees in Turkey would head to Europe if the EU did not grant Turks visa freedom from October, Mr Cavusoglu told Bild: “I don't want to talk about the worst case scenario – talks with the EU are continuing but it's clear that we either apply all treaties at the same time or we put them all aside.”

“It can’t be that we implement everything that is good for the EU but that Turkey gets nothings in return,” he added.

Turkey is required to fulfil a list of criteria from the EU to qualify for visa freedom, a major part of which is amending its anti-terrorism laws, which have been part of rising tensions between Ankara and the West since the failed coup attempt in the country.

Ankara claims it cannot soften its anti-terrorism law due to the multiple security threats posed by Isis militants in neighbouring Syria and Kurdish militants in the south east.

Erdogan: Turkey coup bid 'an act of treason'

But European commissioner Guenther Oettinger has said he does not see the EU granting Turkey visa freedoms this year, considering the Government’s crackdown since the country’s failed military coup.

Europe and the United States have been worried by President Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown and suspect he has been using the purges as an excuse to squash dissent. At least 50,000 people have been targeted in the purges, including soldiers, police, civil servants and academics, while around 131 media outlets suspected of inciting or sympathising with the failed coup have been permanently shut down.

This is not the first time Turkey has threatened to pull out of the refugee deal over visas. When Germany joined other countries two weeks ago in calling for Turkey to show proportionality in response to the failed coup, Mr Cavusoglu threatened to withdraw from the agreement.

Germany’s Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel’s response to the threat was to say that Europe “will not be blackmailed”.

“It is up to Turkey if there is or isn’t visa liberalisation,” he said. “Germany and Europe should under no circumstances be blackmailed.”

A spokesman for the European Commission declined to comment on the interview directly but told Reuters the EU continued to work together with Turkey in all areas of cooperation.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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