The European Commission is blocking plans to introduce an Australian-style policy which would see boats full of migrants turned around and returned to their port of origin. Instead, Commissioners have insisted that Europe has a “moral duty” to take all who come.
The idea was raised by a senior MEP at a private meeting on Europe’s migrant crisis held earlier this month, and gained the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron, who wanted to deploy EU vessels in Libyan waters to turn the ships carrying migrants around.
But according to sources present at the meeting Christos Stylianides, the Greek-Cypriot EU commissioner in charge of immigration astonished MEPs by first ignoring the suggestion and then exploding with anger when pressed, the Daily Express has reported.
He claimed that European nations had a “moral duty” to take the migrants, saying it was “against our EU values” to send them back to Turkey or Libya.
Yesterday EU leaders agreed to a deal with Turkey which involves returning illegal immigrants to the country from Greece under a “one in, one out” basis. For every illegal boat migrant returned, a Syrian asylum seeker will be granted leave to travel directly from Turkey to Europe – an arrangement which human rights activists pointed out actually incentivises people to get on the boats.
In return, European officials have agreed to grant Turkey’s 77 million citizens visa-free travel into EU nations, and to immediately reopen accession talks with the aim of welcoming Turkey into the Union within the next few years. Membership of the EU would see Turkey handed 82 seats in the European Parliament, equal only to Germany’s tally.
Commissioner Styliandes, whose own country has been torn in two by a Turkish invasion told told MEPs: “I am not naive, I understand your concerns about Turkey but we have no choice.”
European leaders approved the deal in under an hour.
Despite being over-ruled at the meeting, Mr Cameron insisted that the deal with Turkey proved that Britain “has the best of both worlds in the EU” as she will not have to give Turkey visa free access or take an increased quota of migrants “but still gets to be in the room to decide how we deal with this crisis.”
He also claimed that “borders are going up over Europe not down, which is a good thing”.
And he has dismissed the threat of Turkey joining the EU, arguing that other countries will veto it. French law means that the country will have to hold a referendum on Turkish accession, “and the last poll showed 75 per cent are against” Turkey joining the EU, Mr Cameron said.
He added: “I don’t believe that Turkey is an issue for this referendum.”
But UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage disagreed. He believes the deal will make a Brexit vote more likely at the referendum on EU membership in June.
“This deal is the worst of all possible worlds,” he said. “Giving visa free access to Turkey will mean increased numbers of people coming to Europe.
“And fast tracking an unstable Turkey into EU membership is madness. I feel more confident than ever that Turkey IN means Britain OUT.”
UKIP’s Migration spokesman Steven Woolfe said: “It’s clear that the EU has got absolutely no moral obligation to accept [the migrants].
“To say it is against EU values to send economic migrants back to home is ridiculous. And what are EU values? Ignoring referendum results in France, Netherlands and Ireland. Enforcing Euro membership to create poverty and unemployment for millions? Bullying smaller countries to comply with German demands?
“It seems to me that only value that the EU holds is to increase power for itself, and pay for its bureaucrats.
“The UNHCR estimates that there are 60 million displaced people in the world. The notion that the EU alone has a duty to take them all in is ridiculous in the extreme.”
According to the UN’s Refugee Agency, 156,519 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, more than six times the figure for early 2015.