PARIS – Turkey could easily call off the migrant deal struck with the European Union if visa rules for Turks aren't relaxed within the next two months, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday, sounding a warning over a controversial deal which has stemmed much of the human tide across the Aegean Sea.
The March 18 deal stipulates that anyone arriving on Greek islands from Turkey will be sent back unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. For every Syrian sent back, the EU will take another Syrian directly from Turkey. In return, Ankara was granted billions of euros to deal with the more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees already living in Turkey and promised a loosening of the visa regime governing Turkish citizens.
Comments carried by the Anadolu Agency quoted the prime minister as saying that if Brussels did not hold up its end of the bargain by June then "no one would expect Turkey to adhere its commitments."
Davutoglu sounded the warning on his way to Strasbourg, France where he addressed lawmakers at the European Council on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected a report by the European Union's parliament that criticized democratic shortfalls in the country, and warned that the "EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU."
Speaking to local official in Turkey Erdogan disputed the report, endorsed by the European Parliament last week, which criticized the Turkish government's moves to muzzle freedom of expression and reported a "regression" in its democracy.
Addressing local officials on Tuesday, Erdogan said the EU report was prepared with a "destructive understanding."
Davutoglu's speech boasted about Turkey's magnanimity, saying that "if there was a test on humanity globally, Turkey would be the only country to pass the test."
He said Turkey had "fulfilled all its commitments" but that Europeans had yet to deliver all the promised funds.
He said crossings from Turkey into Greece were down to 60 or even sometimes zero people per day. "This is a huge achievement," he said, speaking through an interpreter.
The International Organization for Migration says Greece has seen fewer than 70 arrivals per day in the past 10 days, down from nearly 1,500 of arrivals per day before the deal was struck.
Dominique Soguel in Istanbul and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.