Amid migration fears, Greece supports visa-free travel of Turks to EU

Amid migration fears, Greece supports visa-free travel of Turks to EU
Greece and Turkey resumed exploratory talks earlier this year to find common ground on some long-standing maritime disputes. (AP/File)
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Updated 06 October 2021

Amid migration fears, Greece supports visa-free travel of Turks to EU

Amid migration fears, Greece supports visa-free travel of Turks to EU
  • Turkey currently hosts about 3.7 million Syrian refugees, the largest refugee population worldwide

ANKARA: Ankara and Brussels are readying to discuss another milestone for their long-standing relations as European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson prepares to visit in mid-October to launch high-level talks between the EU and Turkey on migration management, including visa liberalization for Turkish citizens.

Amid fears of a potential inflow of refugees after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the Syrian quagmire, some key member states, including Greece, are unexpectedly lending support to Turkey’s rights to enter Europe visa-free in return for more cooperation on migration.

Speaking to Die Welt on Oct. 4, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi called on Brussels to stay loyal to its commitments on visa liberalization to Turkey days after the same minister publicly announced that his country would not tolerate a replay of the 2015 migration crisis along its borders.

Similarly, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said last month that Turkey was a key partner in addressing new migration challenges to Europe and needed support.

So far, Ankara has fulfilled 66 of the 72 criteria the union is asking for in exchange for visa liberalization, including requirements regarding fundamental rights, migration management, security and public order, and document safety.

The remaining criteria include revising anti-terror legislation by widening the scope of freedom of expression, signing a cooperation agreement with Europol, cooperating with EU member states on legal issues, implementing an anti-corruption strategy and revising legislation on the protection of personal data in line with EU law, among others.

The agreement signed between Turkey and the EU in 2013 for the readmission of irregular migrants who crossed into the EU — especially to Greek islands — through Turkish soil suggested that after Ankara fulfilled all its responsibilities, Turkish citizens with biometric passports would have been able to travel freely to the Schengen area within a couple of years.

While nearly 861,630 people reached Greek shores in 2015, that number plunged to 36,310 the following year, and the number of missing persons in the Aegean Sea declined from 441 in 2016 to 71 in 2019.

However, the visa-free process stalled due to several political flashpoints that erupted in EU-Turkey relations over the years.

“In 2019, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a circular instructing the relevant ministries to coordinate their efforts with a view to fulfilling all the remaining criteria. However, this could not be accomplished due to other complications in the Turkey-EU relationship and a lack of motivating factors,” Cigdem Nas, an expert on EU-Turkey relations and secretary-general of the Istanbul-based Economic Development Foundation of Turkey, told Arab News.

After a turbulent year in 2020, Turkey and the EU decided to follow a positive agenda to repair their relations and better manage political disagreements.

“This positive agenda involved modernizing the Customs Union, relaunching high-level dialogue on climate, health, security and regional issues, facilitating people-to-people contacts and cooperating on migration. Visa liberalization was, however, not mentioned in this agenda,” Nas said.

According to Nas, talks about visa liberalization gained momentum as the parties cooperated on migration, especially with the flow of refugees from war-torn Syria through the original migration deal in March 2016.

“Greece’s support may be related to the migration issue. Greece has been under much pressure from consecutive waves of migration since the beginning of the Syrian crisis. As it is considered at the border of the EU along the Eastern Mediterranean route, Turkey’s cooperation in regulating migratory flows is essential for Greece,” she said.

“Greek decision-makers may feel that visa liberalization can be a motivating factor for Turkey to engage in more sincere cooperation with Greece and the EU in controlling irregular migration,” Nas added.

Turkey currently hosts about 3.7 million Syrian refugees, the largest refugee population worldwide.

According to Nas, although the Afghan crisis has not yet created any pressure on Greece in terms of migration, it may provoke a new wave of mass migration in the near future as other migrants also arrive from the wider Middle East and Central Asia.

“It is important for Greece to keep the momentum up in its relations with Turkey and support the latter’s EU bid, including visa liberalization. Turkey may also request from Greece further cooperation in order to convince other member states to revitalize Turkey-EU relations not only on the visa issue but also on such critical issues as Customs Union modernization and the Green Deal,” she said.

Greece and Turkey resumed exploratory talks earlier this year to find common ground on some long-standing maritime disputes.

Amanda Paul, a senior policy analyst at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, said the upcoming high-level meeting between Turkey and the EU is to be welcomed. 

“Having a conversation on migration management is important. There is a need to deepen cooperation in this area, as there are common challenges for both partners,” she told Arab News. “The meeting comes on the back of the Afghanistan crisis, with the EU keen to avoid new flows of refugees arriving in its territory and continue discussions on the future of the 2016 migration deal, which was extended to 2022.”

In the Western Balkans, the EU has a visa-free regime with Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, as well as Georgia and Ukraine. Brussels still continues to monitor the fulfillment of the visa liberalization requirements of these countries through committee meetings and regular reports.

Non-EU citizens from these countries can enter the Schengen area with a biometric passport for 90 days, within a period of 180 days, without a visa.


Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
Updated 6 sec ago

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
  • A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Tarek Bitar from questioning top officials
BEIRUT: The probe into last year’s deadly Beirut port blast has been cleared to resume after being suspended for more than a month on legal claims against its lead investigator, judge Tarek Bitar, a judicial source said.
A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Bitar from questioning top officials on Tuesday.
“They have reversed the decision that had led to the suspension of the probe and he can now resume his work for sure,” Nizar Saghieh, head of the Legal Agenda, a research and advocacy organization, told Reuters.
The resumption could be temporary should further legal complaints be filed, he said.
The investigation into the Aug. 4, 2020, blast that killed more than 215 people, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the city has made little headway amid pushback from powerful factions, some of whom lead smear campaigns and filed multiple suits against Bitar.
The leader of the Iranian-backed, armed Shiite Muslim political movement Hezbollah has repeatedly said he wanted Bitar removed from the case and the row over him has spilled over into government, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s cabinet unable to meet since Oct. 12.
Many Lebanese are angry that more than one year on from the blast no senior official has been held accountable for the country’s worst peace-time disaster as it slips into political and economic meltdown.
Bitar has sought to question senior politicians, including former ministers and members of parliament, since July but nearly all have spurned him.
He is the second judge to take charge of the investigation after a legal complaint against the partiality of his predecessor Fady Sawan saw him removed in February.

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4
Updated 07 December 2021

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

BASRA: At least four people were killed and 20 wounded in an explosion in Iraq's southern city of Basra, police and hospital sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
Police are still investigating the cause of the blast, which took place in the city centre, near a main hospital. The explosion set fire to at least one vehicle and damaged a minibus.
One police source said that an initial investigation showed that a motorcycle rigged with explosives could have been the cause of the blast. 


UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022
Updated 07 December 2021

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022
  • The decision is aimed at boosting productivity and improving work-life balance, WAM reported

DUBAI: The UAE government will transition to a four-and-a-half-day working week, with Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday forming the new weekend starting Jan. 1, 2022 for all federal departments, state news agency WAM reported. 
The new system will be applied in all federal government entities with working hours from 7:30 a.m. till 3:30 p.m., it added.
Working hours on Fridays will start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 12 noon, with the possibility of flexible working hours or work from home options during those days. Friday sermons and prayers will be after 1:15 p.m. all year long in the UAE. 
The decision is aimed at boosting productivity and improving work-life balance, WAM reported.


UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed
Updated 07 December 2021

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed
  • It is the first polymer banknote to be circulated in the country
  • The current 50- dirham note will continue to be used

DUBAI: UAE rulers witnessed the launch of a new 50-dirham banknote on Tuesday, in celebration of the country’s 50th National Day. 
The initiative comes in honor of the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, and the country’s first generation of rulers to commemorate their dedication and historical role in uniting the country.
It is the first polymer banknote to be circulated in the country.
“We see in this issuance the new phase that UAE will enter, and a renewed pledge to continue its growth path. The occasion also allowed us to express our appreciation and gratitude to our founding fathers by issuing a new AED50 banknote to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the UAE,” said Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of the UAE. 
The front of the new banknote features a portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed on the right, and the memorial picture of the founding fathers after signing the union document. 
Meanwhile, the back side includes a picture of the late Sheikh Zayed signing the union agreement as well as illustration of the Etihad Museum, which witnessed the establishment of the union and the raising of the UAE flag for the first time.
According to state news agency WAM, the new banknote will be available in Central Bank branches and ATMs ‘in the near future’.
The current 50- dirham note will continue to be used.
Polymer banknotes are said to be more durable and sustainable than traditional cotton paper banknotes, lasting two or more times longer in circulation. They can also be completely recycled, thus reducing their environmental footprint.


Syria says fires extinguished at Latakia’s port following Israeli ‘aggression’

 Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 07 December 2021

Syria says fires extinguished at Latakia’s port following Israeli ‘aggression’

 Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jets fly over the Mediterranean Sea. (REUTERS file photo)
  • Israel has mounted frequent attacks against what it has described as Iranian targets in Syria

CAIRO: Fires caused by an Israeli “aggression” at Syria’s Latakia port on Tuesday had been extinguished, leaving material damage, but the status of any casualties was unclear, Syria’s state media reported.

Five explosions rocked the port city after an Israeli “aggression” hit the port’s container yard, sending fire trucks racing to the site, Syrian state TV said.

Israel has mounted frequent attacks against what it has described as Iranian targets in Syria, where Tehran-backed forces including Lebanon’s Hezbollah have deployed over the last decade to support President Bashar Assad.

The Mediterranean port of Latakia is the country’s main port, through which food and other crucial supplies flow into war-torn Syria, and is close to Russia’s main air base of Hmeimim.