EU says to 'step up' resettlement of refugees from Turkey
AFP, , Tuesday 6 Oct 2015

The EU said Tuesday it would step up resettling refugees now in Turkey and help reinforce Turkish coastguard patrols under a crisis plan discussed during talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ankara will meanwhile put "priority" on setting up six new refugee reception centres partially funded by the EU under the draft plan published by the European Commission following Erdogan's visit to Brussels on Monday.

"It is clear that we need Turkey. The Commission will come to its aid," European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament before he unveiled the proposals.

"The European Union and Turkey must work together, develop an asylum policy and help the unlucky ones who come to us."

The EU agreed in July to resettle 22,504 Syrian refugees currently living in camps outside the bloc, including those in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Though the new plan disclosed no figures, the European Union pledged to increase the numbers of refugees it resettles from Turkey, which has admitted some 2.2 million from the wars in Syria and Iraq.

EU President Donald Tusk said that according to Turkish estimates another three million potential refugees may come from the Syrian city of Aleppo and surrounding areas.

"Work on a structured EU-wide approach to resettlement shall be stepped up," the commission said after pointing out it would support existing European schemes which "could enable refugees in Turkey to enter the EU in an orderly manner."

Despite opposition from some member states, the EU has also pledged to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers throughout the bloc from overstretched Greece and Italy.

EU officials see cooperation with Turkey, which is a gateway to Europe from Middle East war zones, as crucial to tackle the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Under the plan, the EU said "it intends to support Turkey to strengthen its capacity to combat migrant smuggling, notably reinforcing the Turkish coastguard patrolling and surveillance capacitites."

Turkey would meanwhile boost its coastguard's interception capacities, increase patrols and work more with its counterparts from Greece, the first European destination for refugees.

Ankara would also work towards integrating its refugees into the broader society by offering them jobs as well as health and education services, it said.

At present, Turkey does not give Syrians fleeing civil war at home refugee status, but refers to them as "guests".

"EU funding can be used to support such measures," it added.

Turkey would also try to help refugees gain access to shelters and build new ones. "In this respect, priority will be given to the opening of six new refugee reception centres built with EU co-funding," it said.

EU sources said earlier that EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU enlargement commission Johannes Hahn joined the Juncker-Erdogan talks to discuss Turkey's controversial calls for a safe zone in northern Syria where refugees could take shelter from the bloody conflict.

Critics say Turkey appears to be pushing the idea because it fears gains by Kurdish rebels along the border would bolster Kurds, who they fear will seek their own homeland in eastern Turkey.

Officials from the commission, the executive of the 28-nation bloc, will follow up on the plan with a visit to Turkey on Wednesday, the source said.

Migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos will travel to Turkey next week.

Tusk told the parliament that Erdogan, a fierce opponent of President Bashar al-Assad, informed him that millions more refugees would flee Syria if Assad wins the four-year civil war.