x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Turkey must tighten illegal migrant controls to join EU, says UK

Unless Turkey dramatically enhances its border controls before it can join the European Union, EU states could find themselves more vulnerable to organised crime, especially drug smuggling, an influential committee of MPs has warned.

LONDON // Turkey's quest to join the European Union could open the floodgates to illegal migrants from Asia, a British parliamentary committee warned yesterday.

The MPs also said that, unless Turkey dramatically enhanced its border controls with Iran, Iraq and Syria, EU states could find themselves more vulnerable to organised crime, especially drug smuggling.

Up to 80 per cent of heroin currently used in Europe is estimated by intelligence agencies to pass through Turkey.

The influential House of Commons home affairs committee demanded that Turkey demonstrate that it had met the criteria for stringent border controls set by the EU before being allowed to join.

Keith Vaz, the committee chairman, said: "It was clear from our visits to Turkey and Greece that, despite the willingness of the authorities to tackle the problem of illegal migration into the EU through this region, much more needs to be done.

"In particular, we require a collective commitment from Greece, Turkey and the European and international law enforcement agencies to share intelligence and work together to bring down the criminal gangs who are responsible for bringing thousands of migrants into the EU each month," he said.

"I am concerned that, if action is not taken now, it will become even easier for migrants from countries such as Afghanistan and Iran to enter the EU once Turkey is a member.

"The UK government and its EU partners must therefore do everything they can to assist Turkey in tightening its border controls."

Traditionally, the UK has been a strong supporter of admitting Turkey to the EU.

Negotiations regarding Turkey's membership in the EU are stalled and even when, and if, they are successfully concluded, both France and Austria have said they will hold referendums on the issue, promising still further delays.

The importance of EU membership to Turkey was emphasised yesterday by Egeman Bagis, the nation's EU minister and chief negotiator, who pointed out that his country had first applied to join what was then the European Economic Community in 1959. Many European leaders have consistently opposed Turkey's entry over concerns about the political and economic situation in the country, exacerbated by its poor relations with Greece and the contentious division of Cyprus.

"Since then, EU process has been the most important driving force in Turkey's path to advanced democracy and the EU membership goal has become a state policy for the country," he said.

"Without the presence of Turkey, EU will continue to struggle with economic crises."

Mr Bagis added that the EU would also remain incapable of mounting an effective battle against extremism and racism without Turkey in its midst.

dsapsted@thenational.ae