Turks close to getting visa-free travel in 26 EU countries

EU gives conditional backing to deal, unveils asylum system revamp

BRUSSELS • The European Union (EU) yesterday gave conditional backing to visa-free travel for Turks and unveiled an overhaul of its asylum system under which member states that refuse to take a quota of refugees will be fined.

In its latest bid to tackle the biggest migration crisis since World War II, the European Commission (EC) proposed making countries pay a "solidarity contribution" of €250,000 (S$388,900) per refugee they decline to take.

Ankara has threatened to tear up a March agreement to take back migrants from Europe if the EU fails to keep its promise to allow Turks to travel without visas to the passport- free Schengen area by end-June.

EC Vice-President Frans Timmermans said the EU's executive arm would recommend that, if Ankara meets the remaining criteria, the 28 member states and the European Parliament should approve the Turkish visa plan.

Turkey must complete five more benchmarks to complete the EU's list of 72 - which include biometric passports and human rights issues.

Under the plan, Turkish citizens would be allowed to make 90-day visits to Europe's 26-country Schengen passport-free area for business or tourism without needing a visa.

Also yesterday, the EC unveiled its long-awaited proposal for replacing its outdated asylum system with a mechanism for relocating refugees in a crisis.

The so-called Dublin rules now in force have been criticised as obsolete and unfair to countries like Greece, where most of the migrants entered the bloc last year.

Under the Dublin rules, migrants seeking asylum must lodge their application in the country where they first arrived, and should be returned there if they try to move elsewhere in the bloc.

The EU has been overwhelmed by more than 1.25 million refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere since the start of last year. Since the EU-Turkey deal came into force on March 20 this year, the number of arrivals in Greece has plunged. Ankara has agreed to take back all migrants arriving on the Greek islands, provided the EU resettle one Syrian refugee from camps in Turkey for every Syrian refugee that Turkey accepts from Greece.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'Turks close to getting visa-free travel in 26 EU countries'. Print Edition | Subscribe