Refugees tent Idomeni Greece
Tens of thousands of reugees are stuck at the Greek-Macedonian border. Credit: Petros Giannakouris

Swedish PM urges dialogue with Turkey

"To isolate countries is not a good idea"
0:48 min

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has condemned Turkish authorities' raid on the country's biggest newspaper, but insists Sweden and the EU should continue talks with Turkey.

Löfven is in Brussels with other EU leaders for an emergency summit with Turkey to discuss the refugee crisis. This comes only days after Turkish police raided the offices of the country's biggest newspaper, Zaman, following a court ruling that placed it under state control.

Asked by Swedish Radio News what he thinks of these actions, Löfven said: "It is very serious. And that is why I think it is important to stress that part of the process of liberalisation and to become and an EU member is that you have to stand up for human rights and democracy."

"You must have contact with countries, to isolate countries is not a good idea," said Löfven.

The government's and the EU's position has been criticised, for example by the Left party.

"At some point Sweden needs to decide: are you going to be a voice for human rights and democracy in the world or not?" Hans Linde, Left Party foreign policy spokesperson, told Swedish Television's Agenda news programme this weekend.

"You can't stand in the Swedish parliament with high-flown rhetoric on human rights, and at the same time pay out hundreds of millions to an authoritarian regime that violates human rights - in Turkey against its own citizens - but also the rights of asylum seekers every day, by using EU money to send refugees to internment camps, to close their borders, and to force Syrian refugees back into the war," he added.

In a longer interview, Home Affairs Minister, Anders Ygeman, rejected the criticism.

"We're not sending any blank cheques to the Turkish regime. We are contributing to making the conditions for the 2.6 million refugees that have fled [to Turkey] from the war in Syria more tolerable, so that they can go to school, get health care and be allowed to work in Turkey," Ygeman told the programme.

He noted that Turkey had received "significantly more" refugees than the EU, and reiterated the government's position that the whole of 28-member bloc should start taking responsibility for refugees, and to honour the agreement already signed regarding the allocation of refugees around the union.

"We send money to projects, to help out with education, welfare and border control, there are no blank cheques for the Turkish regime," he said.

Neither would the agreement, nor today's talks, would being Turkey closer to EU-membership, Ygeman added.

"Turkey belongs to Europe, but the state in which Turkey is in today, the country does not fulfil the demands we have of an EU-country. You have to respect human rights, you have to live up to freedom of expression. Those are imperative demands that Sweden will never drop," he said.

But, he said, an agreement with Turkey on the refugees is a "necessity".

"It is one of the main routes for refugees. There are already three million refugees in Turkey, and we want to contribute so that their living conditions are tolerable. And we want Turkey to take responsibility for its borders, just like Greece needs to take responsibility for securing the EU's outer border," he said.

For Turkey to send people back into the war in Syria "is of course unacceptable" he said, but again noted that the country had taken in more refugees than the EU.

"Turkey's role is not unproblematic. We saw the pictures [...], we're getting worrying reports from Amnesty for example, but we are using this agreement and the dialogue to also criticise violations against freedom of the press and human rights," he said.

Ygeman said that it is "fair to say that developments in Turkey has been going in the wrong direction for quite some time now."

He maintained Sweden and the EU have sharply criticised the actions against the Zaman newspaper.

"But if you believe in a positive development at some point for Turkey, if you believe that Turkey belongs to Europe, than there must be a dialogue with Turkey, in conjunction with demands on Turkey, that we can get the development we want. To isolate Turkey would hardly help," he said.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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