Leaders of the European Union and Turkey will meet on March 17 and 18 with the goal of clinching a deal to halt the flow of thousands of migrants across the Aegean Sea to Greece.
European Council President Donald Tusk warned there is "still a lot to do" to reach agreement during a two-day summit addressing the migrant crisis in Brussels,
The plan under discussion by EU leaders includes a migrant "swap" deal first offered by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu 10 days ago, with Turkey taking back all migrants who make it to Greek islands off of Turkey's coast in exchange for the EU taking in more refugees from Turkey.
The idea is "to break the business model of the smugglers" and offer asylum-seekers an alternative that will not put their lives at risk, officials said.
A draft document is said to describe the plan as "a temporary and extraordinary measure which is necessary to end the human suffering and restore public order."
But the whole deal risks being derailed by disputes over Turkey's negotiations to join the EU, particularly a longrunning conflict between Turkey and Cyprus that has prompted Ankara to refuse to give Cyprus the same rights as other EU states to access Turkish ports and airports.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has said he will lift his veto on Turkish accession chapters only if Ankara agrees to recognize Cyprus. Turkey wants concessions for its northern Cypriot allies in return.
Because of these lingering, complicated disputes, the EU is offering only to "prepare for a decision" on opening new accession chapters for Turkey "as soon as possible," a vague offer that may offend Turkey, officials said.
Since the plan would require Turkey to keep all migrants on its territory, the EU is also demanding that Turkey adopt legislation to protect asylum seekers in line with the Geneva Convention, though Ankara has limited its formal commitments to that treaty.
EU officials argue that the alternative to holding people back in Turkey is to see a further build-up of migrants stranded in increasingly dire conditions in Greece. Already an estimated 40,000 people are marooned on the Greek side of the border with Macedonia after Balkan nations slammed their borders shut to migrants last week.
While the plan seeks to preserve the rights of asylum seekers to legal protections, EU officials stress that the overall goal is to quickly deter most people from even trying to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece, putting an end to the stream of thousands of migrants a day seen in the last year.
While Turkey under the deal would agree to take back all migrants, it also gets a guarantee that for each migrant it takes back the EU will accept a refugee for resettlement, officials said.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP