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World

Turkey Hopes For European Union Visa Status Promised In Migrant Deal

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The recent agreement on migrants between the European Union and Turkey is supposed to pay off with a real-life benefit for Turks. If Turkey controls the flow of migrants and makes certain political reforms then its citizens can travel to the European Union visa-free. NPR's Peter Kenyon talked to some Turks hoping to go to Europe soon and found a good deal of skepticism.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The German consulate, a bulky, brown, brick complex near Istanbul's central Taksim Square, is not a recommended place to hang out these days. Police barricades and vehicles line the front of the building because of the threat of a possible terrorist attack. Still, on Wednesday afternoons, a line of people snakes out from the rear of the consulate. That's when Turks can get a visa appointment in only two to four weeks as opposed to the three months it takes if they apply for a German visa online.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking foreign language).

KENYON: Two women - the older in a conservative head scarf, the younger in fashionably ripped skinny jeans - hurry past without giving their names, pausing just long enough to complain about the massive paperwork and multiple visits it's taking to get their visas. Nearby 24-year-old Kubra Temal is worried. She has an important meeting in Germany at the end of the month. And she's afraid her business visa won't come through in time. As part of the EU migrant deal, Turks are supposed to gain visa-free travel to the EU in June - too late for her meeting but she still says it'd be a good thing.

KUBRA TEMAL: (Through interpreter) For me the most important thing is that if it's easier to travel we can learn a foreign language more easily. Turkey is a country with basically only one language and we have to fix that.

KENYON: But there are strings attached to the visa liberalization process - lots of them. Seventy-two reforms all to be enacted by Turkey by the end of this month. Sinan Ulgen, a Turkey expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says that strikes him as unlikely.

SINAN ULGEN: Absolutely because it is nearly impossible for Turkey to fulfill all that 72 criteria which...

KENYON: Some of the reforms are relatively simple. Many relate to the migrant readmission deal itself - better border security, clear migration rules, that kind of thing. But Ulgen says others call for major changes inside Turkey to bring it more in line with EU norms.

ULGEN: Questions like implementing an effective strategy to fight corruption, passing a law in parliament compliant with the EU on data privacy, changing the definition of terrorism that would comply with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. So a lot...

KENYON: In the past the EU has shown some leniency if a country is making a good-faith effort to meet all the requirements. But Ulgen says with a political backlash against migrants growing in some EU countries, positions are hardening.

ULGEN: And now countries essentially asking Turkey to fulfill all the 72 criteria, which would then trigger the very possibility of seeing the whole deal being unraveled, as Turkey would possibly suspend the readmission agreement.

KENYON: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself raised that possibility in a recent speech. He served notice that any backsliding by the EU on the terms of the migrant deal could cause him to walk away from it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter) If the EU doesn't take the necessary steps, if they don't fulfill their commitments, then Turkey will not implement the agreement.

KENYON: Other Turkish officials are more positive, saying Turkey has already completed more than half the necessary reforms and predicting that the rest will be completed in time. But if you ask the Turks standing in line at the German consulate, most smile ruefully and say they'll keep queuing for appointments because they don't think the visa rules are likely to ease anytime soon. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.