UPDATE 16:24 p.m. IST -- The European Commission on Wednesday backed visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in Europe's Schengen zone, according to AFP. Turkey had sought visa-free travel for its citizens as part of the migrant deal agreed on with the European Union.
The final decision, however, will be taken by European Parliament and the European Council member states.
The Turkish delegation to EU said through its Twitter account that it "welcomed" the European Commission's recommendation, and hoped that visa-free travel will be put into effect by June.
The European Commission has reportedly decided to grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel in the Schengen area based on conditional approval, to ensure that Ankara follows the migrant deal reached earlier this year. Under the EU-Turkey migrant deal, Ankara agreed to take back Syrian migrants who crossed over to Greece illegally, in return for the European Union rehabilitating migrants directly from Turkey.
The BBC on Tuesday cited sources saying that the European Commission will give a conditional approval to Turkey for visa-free travel in the Schengen area, one of the demands the latter had made in the run-up to the deal, along with a European Union membership and more funds. However, the Commission's approval has to pass through the European Parliament and the European Council member states before it takes effect.
The EU had specified 72 conditions to be met by Turkey in order to get visa-free access, including assurance of protection of free speech and minority rights. The deadline for Turkey to meet all the criteria ends on Wednesday in order for Turkish citizens to be given visa-free access by next month. The Turkish parliament is expected to pass the necessary laws to meet the conditions on Tuesday, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
Europe saw its worst migrant crisis since World War II, with over a million migrants reaching its shores last year. The EU-Turkey deal was meant to stem the flow of refugees crossing the Aegean Sea to reach Greece.
The deal, however, had sparked anger among human rights activists, who called it illegal and in violation of human rights.