Turkey hopes for new refugee deal with EU before March 26

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said a 2016 refugee deal between Turkey and the European Union needs to be updated, expressing Ankara’s hopes to reach a new agreement in time for a summit of the bloc’s leaders later this month.

In an interview with state-run Anadolu news agency, Cavusoglu said on Tuesday Turkey was ready “for constructive work” on the issue, taking into account developments in neighbouring Syria where a government-led offensive has forced nearly a million people to flee towards the Turkish border.

“If we reach an agreement by March 26 when there will be an EU leaders’ summit, this issue will come on to the agenda of this meeting,” Cavusoglu said.

He spoke a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan left meetings in Brussels with EU and NATO leaders without issuing a joint statement or appearing at a joint news conference, as had been expected.

Erdogan’s trip came as tens of thousands of asylum-seekers have been trying to break through the land border between Turkey and Greece for days after Ankara announced it would no longer prevent people from trying to cross into the EU amid risk of new arrivals from Syria.

Turkey, which hosts approximately four million mostly Syrian refugees, has repeatedly railed against what it describes as unfair burden-sharing following a 2016 deal with the bloc to halt the influx of refugees into Europe.

In March 2016, Turkey and the EU agreed upon a deal in which Brussels would provide billions of euros in aid to help Ankara finance housing, schools and medical centres for the refugees it hosts on its soil.

But Ankara has repeatedly accused the bloc of not fulfilling its commitments under the deal, including visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and an enhanced customs union.

“If we are to come up with a road map with the EU, we expect them to be sincere,” Cavusoglu said.

“It is not only about keeping migrants in return for more money,” he added, noting that EU visa liberalisation and an update of the country’s customs union with the bloc must be implemented to help solve the refugee issue.

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