Turkey threatens to end refugee deal with EU

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday (March 14) a diplomatic row with the Netherlands could not be dismissed with an apology and warned of further possible measures, after Ankara suspended high-level diplomatic ties with the Dutch.VIDEO: REUTERS
A riot policeman guarding the Dutch consulate in Istanbul on Monday. The Netherlands became embroiled in a row with Turkey after it prevented two Turkish ministers from holding rallies in the country.
A riot policeman guarding the Dutch consulate in Istanbul on Monday. The Netherlands became embroiled in a row with Turkey after it prevented two Turkish ministers from holding rallies in the country.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Ankara also suspends high-level ties with The Hague as row with the Netherlands escalates

ANKARA • Turkey has threatened to scrap a deal with the European Union to stop the flow of migrants into Europe as a row over Turkish campaigning in the Netherlands escalated into a full-blown crisis.

In a dramatic escalation after the Netherlands prevented two Turkish ministers from holding rallies ahead of next month's referendum on strengthening President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers, Ankara said it was suspending high-level ties with The Hague in a raft of diplomatic sanctions.

Mr Erdogan also lashed out at German Chancellor Angela Merkel for "supporting terrorists" as she backed the Netherlands in the increasingly acrimonious stand-off, prompting an exasperated response from Berlin.

The dispute risks harming Turkey's entire relationship with the EU, which it has sought to join for the last half-century in an agonisingly slow process.

The EU-Turkey refugee deal, struck in March last year, aimed to curb irregular migration through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of nearly three million Syrian refugees in Turkey. It also allowed for the acceleration of Turkey's EU membership bid and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals within the Schengen area that comprises most EU states.

Tensions have risen in recent days after Mr Erdogan repeatedly described the actions by the Dutch and Germans against Turkish officials as reminiscent of the Nazis.

His comments sparked particular outrage in the Netherlands, a country bombed and occupied by German forces in World War II.

The United States urged its Nato allies to resolve their row, with a State Department official saying "we would just ask that they not escalate the situation any further and work together to resolve it".

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn urged Turkey to "refrain from excessive statements and actions that risk further exacerbating the situation". But the Turkish Foreign Ministry hit back by saying that the EU's "short-sighted statement has no value for our country".

"Our EU counterparts apply democratic values, fundamental rights and freedoms selectively," it added.

Paying no heed to the EU's warning, Mr Erdogan bluntly told the German Chancellor on Turkish television late on Monday: "Mrs Merkel, you are supporting terrorists."

In an interview with A-Haber television, he accused Berlin of not responding to 4,500 dossiers sent by Ankara on terror suspects, including those linked to Kurdish militants and the failed coup in Turkey last year. "Mrs Merkel, why are you hiding terrorists in your country?... Why are you not doing anything?" he went on, saying that what was happening in Europe was "Nazism, we can call this neo-Nazism".

The Chancellor's spokesman described the accusations as "absurd".

Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik also said Ankara "should re-evaluate" a key part of the 2016 deal to stem the flow of migrants.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said Turkey will not allow the Dutch ambassador, who is currently not in Turkey, to return until the Netherlands meets conditions over holding rallies.

"Until the Netherlands compensates for what it has done, high-level relations and planned meetings at a ministerial and higher level have been suspended," he added.

He said Turkey expected a probe into events over the past few days, including the use of Dutch police officers on horseback and dogs to regain control after a protest outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2017, with the headline 'Turkey threatens to end refugee deal with EU'. Print Edition | Subscribe