EU leaders cautious on Turkey migrant deal

European Union leaders warned hard work was needed at a summit on Thursday to seal a deal with Turkey to curb the migration crisis, despite signs that key hold-out Cyprus is ready to compromise.

Brussels: European Union leaders warned hard work was needed at a summit on Thursday to seal a deal with Turkey to curb the migration crisis, despite signs that key hold-out Cyprus is ready to compromise.

Several voiced concerns about the legality of the accord under which all migrants landing in Greece would be shipped back to Turkey, which has been haggling unsuccessfully for EU membership for decades.

Turkey is demanding a high price from a divided EU to stem the continent`s biggest migration crisis since World War II, which has seen 1.2 million people seek shelter in Europe from conflict in Syria and elsewhere.

It wants the acceleration of its membership bid, visa free travel for Turks to the EU, and a doubling of EU aid for refugees in Turkey to six billion euros ($6.8 billion).

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country`s proposals, originally delivered to EU leaders last week, were "clear and honest".

"They remain on the table -- but Turkey will never become an open prison for migrants," he said as he boarded a plane in Ankara.

European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he was "cautiously optimistic but frankly, more cautious than optimistic" while German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned there were "many things to resolve".

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said the plan was "very complicated, will be very difficult to implement and is on the edge of international law."Critics say the plan for Turkey to take back all migrants from the Greek islands -- and a "one-for-one" deal under which the EU will resettle one Syrian refugee for every Syrian refugee taken back by Turkey -- amount to mass expulsions and are illegal.

The aim of the "one-for-one" deal is to encourage Syrians to apply for asylum in the EU while they are still on Turkish soil, instead of taking dangerous smugglers` boats across the Aegean Sea.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel voiced the concerns of many that a desperate EU was being duped into ignoring concerns over Turkey`s human rights record and its conflict with Kurdish separatists.

"I can`t accept negotiations which sometimes look like they are a form of blackmail," Michel said. 

Meanwhile, the White House urged Turkey to respect democratic values.

The 28 EU leaders will thrash out their negotiating position in Brussels on Thursday before meeting Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at breakfast on Friday.

A senior EU official said there was "progress" on the key issues of legality and Cyprus, adding that Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker would likely meet Davutoglu overnight for further negotiations.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades indicated he could be ready to compromise on his objections to the EU opening new "chapters" in Turkey`s accession process, after earlier threatening to block the entire deal as Turkey refuses to recognise the Cypriot government on the divided island.

Tusk visited Nicosia this week in a bid to win over Anastasiades.

"There are obstacles, but I do hope that during the deliberations that will follow at the European Council, there is going to be a compromise," Anastasiades told reporters, adding that an "alternative" was possible.The deal envisages major aid for Greece, where tens of thousands of refugees are trapped in dire conditions after Balkan countries shut their borders to stop them heading north to richer Germany and Scandinavia.

It says the EU will also help it deal with the huge logistical burden of ensuring asylum seekers on the Greek islands are registered and processed before being returned to Turkey. 

Hollywood star and UNHCR goodwill ambassdor Angelina Jolie on Thursday visited the island of Lesbos, the principal port of entry for migrants to Europe.

Meanwhile in the bleak camp of Idomeni on the Macedonian border, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei on Thursday sat for a haircut from a migrant barber to draw attention to their plight. 

"I needed a haircut... and of course, it is obviously symbolic," Ai said.

The pressure at the summit to reach a solution is huge, with the EU`s Schengen passport-free travel area cracking as countries reintroduce border checks to curb migrants, and anti-immigration parties on the rise.

"There is no alternative, we have to come to a deal," said Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country holds the EU presidency. 

The EU first agreed a migration deal with Turkey in November -- despite threats by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to "flood" Europe with migrants -- then Davutoglu last week delivered a surprise proposal at an extraordinary summit in Brussels that forms the basis for the deal now under discussion.