Visa-free travel within the Schengen Area — a dream-come-true for most Turks — is now being used by Turkey as a negotiating card with the European Union, saying it will not contribute to solving the refugee problem currently plaguing the Mediterranean if the demand is not met.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who told French daily Le Monde that the EU had failed to keep its promise for visa-free travel in June, added that if Turkey’s demands are not met, the country would stop the readmission of refugees heading for Europe.
“The European Union is not behaving in a sincere manner with Turkey,” Erdogan said, adding, “If our demands are not satisfied then the readmissions will no longer be possible.”
At the same time, hours after Turkey received more than 1 billion euros in European Commission support, the country’s foreign affairs minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, reiterated Erdogan’s statement warning that Turkey will stop holding refugees back should the visa waiver program for Turkish nationals not be implemented.
“If the visa waiver doesn’t follow, we will have to withdraw from the deal which includes the relocation of refugees as well as the March 18 agreement,” Mr Cavusoglu told German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, adding that the refugee crisis was dealt with efficiently thanks to a series of “very serious measures” which were implemented by Ankara. “Yet all these (measures) depend on the waiver of a visa issue for our citizens; a crucial point of our 18th of March agreement.”
Mr Cavusoglu has said that October is the deadline for the visa waiver program to take effect.
Tourism Toll on Greece
In the meantime, the refugee influx towards Europe for the most part through Greece has increased by up to 300 percent, taking a toll on tourism to four of the Greek islands bearing the brunt of the flows. Kos, Lesvos, Samos and Chios have seen their tourism traffic for 2016 drop by 300,000.
Indicatively, the island of Kos alone saw 245,000 seats cancelled with regard to booked airlines slots. According to Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) figures citing the Hellenic Slot Coordination Authority for regional airports, of the 1,213 million seats reserved by airlines in January, only 967 million were carried out, marking a 20 percent drop.