UPDATE: 7:16 a.m. EDT — European Council Chief Donald Tusk said Wednesday that the controversial EU-Turkey deal, which was reached to ease the influx of refugees in Europe, still poses legal and ethical concerns, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Tusk made the comments while addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
“The deal with Turkey isn't perfect and we’re fully aware of its risks and weaknesses,” Tusk reportedly said. “We did everything we could to ensure the agreement respects human dignity, but I’m conscious everything depends on how it will be implemented.”
European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday will debate the controversial EU-Turkey deal, which was reached in March to stem the flow of migration to Europe. The deal, which has been strongly criticized by human rights groups, began last week with 200 refugees returned to Turkey, but stalled after a surge in last-minute asylum applications.
Under the EU-Turkey deal, one person from Turkey will be resettled in Europe for every refugee sent back from Greece. This resettlement and return is feasible up to a limit of 72,000, according to the EU's existing resettlement and relocation commitments. Turkey will also receive more money, early visa-free travel for citizens and progress in its EU membership negotiations, provided Ankara complies with the requirements.
Human rights groups have argued that the deal is flawed, and have raised concerns that the refugees may not have the chance to apply for asylum before being deported. A total of 50,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in Greece following EU and Balkan border closures. Authorities have reportedly detained thousands of migrants and refugees on Greek islands since the “one in, one out” deal with Turkey was reached on March 18 during a meeting in Brussels.
During Wednesday's meeting, the parliament is also expected to discuss the 2015 reform efforts of Turkey toward EU membership. A voting will be held on a resolution Thursday, according to a statement by EU parliament.
"The draft resolution says that EU-Turkey cooperation on migration should be uncoupled from the EU accession negotiating process and flags areas that are lagging behind in the reform process, such as the rule of law, freedom of expression and fundamental values," the statement read.
The meeting comes just days before Pope Francis is set for a trip to Lesbos, Greece, on April 16 to “draw the attention of the international community to the need for an immediate ceasefire in the conflicts” in the Middle East and to bring focus "on the major humanitarian problem" of the influx of refugees to Lesbos and other Greek islands.
"During a time when push backs are seemingly the solution being put forward by the EU, we hope the Pope's visit is not just a symbol of hope for refugees, but a concrete push for the Greek government and other European states to actualize those hopes," Thomas H. Smolich SJ, the international director for the Jesuit Refugee Service, reportedly said.
The pope has expressed concern over the refugee crisis on several occasions. In March, he criticized the “rejection” of refugees as Europe struggled to cope with the influx.
More than 1 million people sought refuge in Europe in 2015, with around half of them coming from Syria, where a five-year civil war has devastated the country, killing hundreds of thousands and creating millions of refugees.