The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey rose from 25,000 in 2011 to nearly 3 million in 2016. The number of asylum applications of Syrians in European countries was 25,665 in 2012, up from 104,300 in 2016. At the end of June 2016, almost 1.1 million asylum applications were pending in EU Member States. Between March 2011 and March 2016, 250,000 people died in the war in Syria. In 2016, 414 people lost their lives trying to cross the Aegean Sea, including 366 before the Turkey-EU agreement. The living conditions of those who have arrived in Turkey or Greece are also worrying. As part of the readmission agreement in force since April 2016, Turkey has pledged to reintroduce Syrian refugees arriving on Greek islands in exchange for 6 billion euros in EU aid and to speed up negotiations on the abolition of EU visas for Turkish citizens in June 2016. Turkey and the European Union reaffirmed their commitment to implement their joint action plan, which was activated on 29 November 2015. Significant progress has already been made, including opening up the Turkish labour market to Syrians under temporary protection, introducing new visa requirements for Syrians and other nationalities, strengthening security efforts by the Turkish coastguard and police, and increased exchange of information.
In addition, the European Union has begun funding the EUR 3 billion refugee mechanism in Turkey for concrete projects, and work on visa liberalisation and accession negotiations, including the opening of Chapter 17 last December, has progressed. On 7 March 2016, Turkey also declared its readiness to accept the rapid return of all migrants who do not need international protection and to take back all irregular migrants intercepted in Turkish waters. Turkey and the EU also agreed to further strengthen measures taken against smugglers and welcomed the establishment of NATO activities in the Aegean Sea. At the same time, Turkey and the EU recognise the need for a continuous, rapid and determined effort. “The readmission agreement and visa exemption should come into force simultaneously.