After several hours of crunch talks, the EU's 28 member states agreed around midnight on a plan designed to stem the flow of migrants travelling into the union from Turkey to Greece. They said they would attempt to strike a deal with Turkey's prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, on Friday.
“We must put an end to the unregulated, very dangerous escape over the Mediterranean which this year alone has cost several hundred people their lives,” Sweden's prime minister Stefan Löfven told Swedish media at a late-night press conference in Brussels.
— European Commission (@EU_Commission) March 17, 2016
The proposed EU plan is designed to stop people entering the European Union illegally by boat, with all refugees arriving from Turkey to Greece set to be sent back. For each Syrian returned, another Syrian in Turkey would be resettled within the European Union.
It has previously been suggested that Turkish citizens will get visa-free travel to Europe from later this summer as part of the deal.
Greece is also likely to need aid from its European neighbours to examine asylum requests and manage logistical challenges of returning people to Turkey, including sending an extra 1,500 police officers and legal staff to the islands that are the main entry points for refugees travelling to the EU.
Löfven said that Sweden would be ready to assist Greece if called upon.
“This is a mutual task the 28 member states have and of course Sweden should then also contribute,” he said. “It would be staffing resources, but it could also concern ships and aircraft.”
If Turkey agrees to the deal the plan could come into effect within a week, although German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a press conference that a date had not been set.
“Friday's negotiations with Turkey will not be easy, all EU countries want a deal concerning the refugee crisis,” she said. “Turkey must meet international norms for protection of refugees, change laws.”
Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
Sweden took in an unprecedented 163,000 asylum seekers in 2015. In November Löfven argued that his country had taken on an “unreasonably large responsibility in comparison with other countries in the EU” and argued that this had left Sweden in “a very tight position”.
Since then, the Scandinavian country has introduced border and ID checks and tightened its asylum rules, after municipalities said they were overwhelmed with the influx.
New arrivals have dropped from more than 10,000 a week back in October to around 500-600 in the past seven days.