ANKARA, Turkey – Amnesty International called on European Union leaders on Saturday to put the rights of refugees above concerns to protect their borders, criticizing the EU's plan to offer aid and concessions to Turkey to stem the mass movement of asylum seekers to Europe.
The statement came a day before German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to arrive in Turkey to promote the EU's offer President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Officials said the incentives would involve an aid package of at least 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) to help Turkey host the more than 2 million refugees, as well as easier access to EU visas for Turkish citizens and speeded-up EU membership talks.
In a statement released Saturday, Amnesty International called on the EU to look for ways to provide safe routes for the refugees trying to reach Europe, saying the bloc's proposal would not take into account the difficulties they face in Turkey or the EU's obligation to offer them protection.
"Talks between the EU and Turkey ... risk putting the rights of refugees a distant second behind border control measures designed to prevent refugees from reaching the EU," said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International's Turkey researcher.
"The EU should be looking at ways in which it can offer safe and legal routes to refugees to reach Europe," Gardner said. "The current plan fails to offer any concrete assurances on boosting resettlement places for the neediest refugees in Turkey."
Amnesty said it had documented a number of cases in which Turkey had forcibly returned refugees to Syria and Iraq after they were caught trying to reach EU.
"Angela Merkel must insist that Turkey cleans up its act before treating it as a reliable partner the EU's border management," Gardner said.
In a speech on Friday, Erdogan vented his grievances with Europe, pointedly taking swipe at talk of awarding Merkel the Nobel Peace Prize for welcoming hundreds of thousands of migrants.
"We have 2.5 million refugees, no one cares," Erdogan said.
The EU plan would see Turkey improve its asylum and documentation procedures and beef up border and coast guard numbers. The idea is to help stop people entering Turkey in search of work there or in the EU, and then prevent both them and refugees in the country from moving on to Europe.