Turkey threatens to scrap migrant deal after Greece ruling

Ankara voices anger over Greek supreme court's refusal to hand over Turkish army officers allegedly linked to coup attempt.

Eight Turkish army officers are escorted by Greek police as they arrive at the supreme court on January 26, 2017. Louisa Gouliamaki /AFP
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ANKARA // Turkey on Friday threatened to scrap a deal on migrants after the Greek supreme court refused to return eight Turkish army officers allegedly linked to the failed July coup.

“We are now considering what we are going to do,” foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. “We have a readmission agreement between us and Greece, with the European Union. We are going to take necessary steps, including the cancellation of this readmission agreement.”

Under a landmark agreement signed with the EU last march, Ankara pledged to take back all illegal migrants landing in Greece. The deal helped to stem a massive human influx into the EU, especially from Syria, and became a hot political and social issue in Europe.

There is also an existing agreement between Ankara and Athens on the readmission to Turkey of illegal migrants. But the foreign minister said Turkey could not “look favourably on a country which protects terrorists, traitors, coup plotters. Greece needs to know this”.

The controversy also comes as Greece and Turkey are trying to negotiate the reunification of Cyprus in talks brokered by the United Nations.

In a bitter statement, Mr Cavusoglu accused the Greek judiciary of encouraging “impunity” and ignoring “international law norms and principles” as well as the rights of the victims of the coup.

Referring to Greece’s own history under military rule, he said, “As a country which experienced coups in its past Greece, with this decision, has unfortunately become a country which protects coup plotters.”

The Turkish officers deny any role in the attempted coup and have claimed their lives would be in danger if they returned to Turkey. They have requested asylum in Greece but their applications were originally rejected in July.

However, their appeals are being processed and on Thursday the Greek court blocked their extradition, saying that they would not have a fair trial in Turkey – a ruling that Mr Cavusoglu said was a “political decision” rather than judicial.

The suspects – who landed a helicopter in Greece a day after the botched putsch and asked for asylum – were also ordered to be released from police custody.

Earlier on Friday, the Turkish justice ministry submitted a second extradition request to Greece for the return of the officers.

With a history of enmity, relations between Greece and Turkey – now allies in Nato – have become warmer under Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the foreign minister said the ruling by the Greek court would affect relations “whether we want it to or not”.

* Agence France-Presse