Turkey: Migrant Talks 'Not Bargaining'

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Turkey's prime minister claimed the moral high ground at Friday's talks with European Union leaders, saying that the plight of refugees is nothing to haggle over as they sought a breakthrough to halt the massive influx of migrants into Europe.

"For Turkey, the refugee issue is not an issue of bargaining, but values," Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters early Friday, only hours after EU leaders agreed on a common mandate for the negotiations.

Davutoglu said he hoped an agreement could be found to "help all refugees as well as deepen EU-Turkey relations," pledging that his country would negotiate "with a humanitarian perspective."

EU leaders will present Davutoglu with a draft plan to send tens of thousands of migrants back to Turkey in exchange for a number of trade-offs to sweeten the deal, including an easing of visa restrictions for Turkish citizens in Europe.

With more than 1 million migrants having arrived in Europe in a year, EU leaders are desperate to clinch a deal with Turkey and heal deep rifts within the 28-member bloc while relieving the pressure on Greece, which has borne the brunt of arrivals.

In the Idomeni camp on the Greek-Macedonian border, Muhammad Hassan, a Syrian from the devastated city of Aleppo, was looking for relief from the talks in Brussels and wondered why a continent of 500 million people could not deal with the migrants.

"Europe have only 1 million," Hassan said. "How come it's difficult?" he asked, comparing the EU to Lebanon, a nation of 5.9 million. "If a small country takes 3 million refugees and didn't talk, how about Europe? It's not difficult."

The EU-Turkey plan would essentially outsource Europe's biggest refugee emergency in decades to Turkey, despite concerns about its subpar asylum system and human rights abuses. Under it, the EU would pay to send new migrants arriving in Greece who don't qualify for asylum back to Turkey. For every Syrian returned, the EU would accept one Syrian refugee, for a total of 72,000 people to be distributed among European states.

Apart from easing visa restrictions, the EU will also offer Turkey — home to 2.7 million Syrian refugees — up to 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in aid, and faster EU membership talks.

Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said building barriers won't solve the migrant crisis in Europe.

The United Nations secretary-general told German daily Bild in an interview published Friday that "building walls, discriminating against people or sending them back is no answer to the problem."

(KA)