Immigration must be 'priority' issue in EU-Turkey ties.
The fight against illegal immigration must become a "priority issue" in the European Union's ties with Turkey, an EU candidate country, French Immigration Minister Eric Besson said.
"This topic clearly must become a priority issue in the relations between the European Union and Turkey," he said at a news conference late on Thursday at an informal meeting of interior ministers from the 27-nation bloc.
"The situation in the Aegean Sea has become intolerable. The Greeks are under intolerable pressure. Turkey has clearly become a transit country and we need it to play the game," he said.
Turkey is considered the main transit country for illegal immigrants from Asia. They arrive on the Turkish coast, and from there make their way to the Greek islands, the gateway to the European Union.
The EU has pushed Turkey to crack down on organized human trafficking rings and to agree on taking back the illegal immigrants who departed from its territory.
Besson said the EU must make the issue a priority in its EU entry talks with Turkey.
EU officials will raise the topic with their Turkish counterparts at a meeting on Feb. 19 in Ankara, the EU's outgoing justice and security commissioner, Jacques Barrot, said.
"It would be a mistake to stigmatize Turkey," he told Agence France-Presse in an interview.
"Turkey must be considered as an important partner. It has a role to play in the region and we must let it decide what kind of relationship it has with the EU," he said.
"In any case, we must open the possibility of a very strong partnership (with Turkey)."