March 14, 2018 / 11:32 AM / 8 days ago

EU presses tough migration stance with more Turkey money, stricter visa rules

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union on Wednesday said it would chip in another three billion euros ($3.7 bln) for Syrian refugees in Turkey, and restrict travel for countries refusing to take back their citizens who fail to obtain asylum in Europe.

European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos addresses a news conference on the European Agenda on Migration at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/Files

The latest measures to curb immigration from the Middle East and Africa, which overwhelmed the bloc when it surged in 2015-16, were announced by the EU’s top migration official, Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Some 1.8 million refugees and migrants have reached Europe across the Mediterranean since 2014, according to U.N. figures, causing friction among member states at odds over how to handle them and lifting support for nationalist and populist parties.

The EU has since been tightening its external borders and asylum laws, as well as offering money and other help to third countries in exchange for preventing people from trekking north.

A 2016 deal with Turkey, though criticised by rights groups for restricting the chance to claim asylum by those in need, has cut to a trickle arrivals through its soil to EU member Greece.

The EU on Wednesday announced a second tranche of three billion euros for projects benefiting Syrian refugees in Turkey, though the bloc’s executive European Commission and the member states must yet agree on the exact financing.

“Our cooperation with Turkey is key to address common challenges,” Avramopoulos told a news conference, referring to the many rifts between Ankara and the EU, which sees President Tayyip Erdogan as increasingly autocratic.

“The rapprochement of Turkey and the EU is a long-term engagement that has started some years ago between our citizens. It’s a matter of common and very clear political will... unnecessary escalations can and should be avoided.”

Avramopoulos added he hoped for a swift return of two Greek soldiers held in detention in Turkey.

As EU states struggle to become more effective in deporting failed asylum seekers or people who overstay the time allowed, the bloc agreed last June to restrict visas for foreign countries that refuse to take back their nationals.

The Commission proposed on Wednesday to regularly monitor how third countries cooperate on returns and, if it deemed it poor, could recommend the bloc gets tougher on visas for that country in the hope of encouraging a change in policy.

($1 = 0.8085 euros)

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by William Maclean

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