The EU should pay €3 billion more to keep refugees in Turkey despite concerns about the Turkish regime, the European Commission has said.
It should also put “pressure” on African and Asian states to take back their unwanted nationals from the EU, it added.
The €3 billion is to be funded with €1 billion from the EU budget and the rest from member states, as in the previous €3 billion tranche, which ended in 2017.
It is to be spent on housing, educating, and giving medical care to the three million refugees now in Turkey, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU migration commissioner, said announcing the proposal in Brussels on Wednesday (14 March).
He urged member states to back it despite Turkey’s rift with the EU over president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s assault on human rights in his post-coup crackdown.
The previous package had led to a “clear and consistent” drop of irregular migrants from Turkey to Greece, he said.
“It is in the interest of Turkey and of the European Union to have this agreement and this agreement should continue to exist as before,” he said, referring to a 2016 EU-Turkey deal on migrants.
“Recently, the political climate has become a bit more strained, we recognise that,” Avramopoulos added.
Erdogan’s crackdown since July 2016 has seen him jail German nationals and, recently, two Greek soldiers who, Athens said, had accidentally crossed the Greek-Turkish land border.
Avramopoulos, a Greek politician, called the soldier case an “unnecessary escalation” that risked being “blown out of proportion”.
He urged Erdogan to free them, saying: “No logical person would say the security of a country was at risk because two soldiers had strayed across the border”.
Avramopoulos spoke the same day that EU auditors said €9 billion of EU fundsfor the Turkish state, which is a candidate for accession, spent in recent years had had a “limited effect” in helping to create rule of law and democracy.
But the commissioner said future EU aid would be better spent because the commission would take more control over the pure strings from Erdogan’s treasury officials.
The commission also proposed that non-EU states who refused to take back their nationals from Europe should in future find it harder to get EU entry visas.
“There will be stricter visas if certain countries do not cooperate on readmission of irregular migrants,” Avramopoulos told press.
He spoke one day before going to Niamey in Africa to meet with interior and foreign ministers from Niger and neighbouring countries.
“We have to apply a bit more pressure,” he said.
He issued a veiled threat on EU development aid, adding: “These countries need the EU. We know we’re the main donors for the development of these countries”.
The commission said it would create easier conditions for ‘bona fide’ travellers seeking EU visas.
But it also proposed to raise the cost of entry visas to the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone by €20 to €80, a tall order in African countries, such as Niger, where a normal wage is about €300 a month.
EU states could spend the extra income on more consular officials with better IT systems, Avramapoulos said.
Wednesday’s announcement comes amid a tense atmosphere on migration.
Some member states, such as Hungary and Poland, have boycotted EU migrant-sharing schemes, prompting court cases, while others, such as Austria and Italy, have voted anti-immigrant populists into positions of power.
Avramopoulos said Italy would “continue to support all our efforts to create a new asylum system” despite the prospect that Matteo Salvini, from the far-right Lega party, could become Italy’s next prime minister.
The EU migrant crisis hit Greece and Italy the hardest due to their geographical position and due to an EU regulation, called Dublin, which says that countries where people first enter the EU have to take care of their asylum application.
The Greek EU commissioner said the crisis, which saw over one million people enter the EU in 2015, meant that the Dublin law was out of date and ought to be changed by the end of the year.
“Italy is not alone in this crisis, which has not ended, and which will still be with us for many, many years to come,” he said.