A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Let’s give Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan some cash, and let’s close our eyes to unending human rights violations in Turkey as it holds Syrian refugees and readmits rejected asylum seekers from the EU. That appears to be the EU’s line. Here are six points to blow this bluff off.
First and foremost, people who fear for their lives and decide to escape can’t be held back unless they are in North Korea, with its tightly controlled border. Some 4,000 deaths in the Aegean Sea during 2015 haven’t prevented others from trying to cross into Europe.
Syrians transiting #Turkey see no future there, even less in #Syria.Tweet This
Second, those Syrians who are transiting Turkey or who are presently in Turkey see no future there—even less in Syria. No future in Turkey as the country’s refugee policy is rudimentary: Turkey applies a geographical limitation to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which means that only Europeans could receive full refugee status in Turkey.
Third, the €3 billion ($3.2 billion) of incentives the EU promised Ankara for Syrians to remain in Turkey, aimed at providing education, social security, and regular jobs, can’t be implemented under present economic conditions.
Fourth, a multibillion and thus uncontainable human trafficking industry has developed on the Turkish Aegean coast.
Fifth, the effective implementation rate of the readmission of rejected asylum seekers is insignificant worldwide.
Sixth, disregarding human rights violations in Turkey to stem the Syrians’ influx into Europe could end up generating Turkish asylum seekers.
I think the question should be “Why will Turkey help Europe on refugees?” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Istanbul right before Turkey’s November 2015 parliamentary election swiftly coincided with the European Commission’s decision to delay publication of its annual progress report on Turkey. By showing the utmost support for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the EU made clear to the pro-European Turkish public that the union is no longer a bastion of democracy.
The #EU has made clear that it is no longer a bastion of democracy.Tweet This
Moreover, the €3 billion ($3.2 billion) deal that Brussels signed with Ankara in November 2015—with promises of a visa liberalization agreement at a time when EU members are reconsidering their own internal borders—is a reminder of the mid-1990s, when Turkey was negotiating its Customs Union with the EU. The two sides’ expectations of the Customs Union were vastly different, and as the Turkish public was anticipating membership talks, Cyprus became a full EU member.
Now, with the refugee situation out of hand, Mediterranean shores full of dead children, and Turkish civil society struggling to help Syrian refugees with its own limited funds, why should Turkey help Europe by keeping Syrians within Turkish borders? The last remaining source of pro-European Turks’ positive perception was the EU’s leverage on human rights in Turkey, and there is no reason to think that Europe is on Turkey’s side. Unless the EU opens Turkey’s accession negotiation chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights and on justice, freedom, and security—and soon—there will be no support for any kind of help for Europe.
After a few years of loneliness in the wilderness of the Middle East, Turkey has finally found a way back to the heart of Europe. In many ways, the refugee issue is Ankara’s ticket back into the bosom of Europe—allowing Turkey to thaw its frozen EU accession process and reverse the isolation that it had been suffering since 2013.
The #refugee issue is #Turkey's ticket back into Europe.Tweet This
So yes, Ankara will certainly use the opportunities presented by the refugee crisis to solidify its Western alliances and thereby help Europe deal with the crisis. But the real questions are “At what price?” and “Will Turkey’s help fix Europe’s refugee problems anyway?”
The overjoyed atmosphere of the Turkey-EU summit in November 2015 and Europe’s subsequent reticence on Turkey’s increasingly worrisome human rights record show that the price will be the quality of Turkish democracy. (And that says as much about Europe today as it does about Turkey.)
But even with the EU ignoring the democratic deficit in Turkey, will the deal work? I think not. The refugee flow might decline but not stop. Europe’s piecemeal approach to the problem focuses solely on keeping the refugees in Turkey. But until the international community addresses the root cause of the problem and reaches a political solution for the civil war in Syria, these efforts are futile. Until Syria—or at least parts of it—is stabilized, masses will continue to flock to a better future elsewhere.
And for people already fleeing their ancestral home, Europe infinitely remains a better destination than Turkey.
When I was in Bodrum in fall 2015, I witnessed firsthand how Turkey is already doing an admirable job providing education, shelter, and healthcare to the more than 2.5 million refugees the country has received. Turkey also recently adopted a reform that gives refugees access to the Turkish labor market. This is a key priority of the EU as it offers the refugees the possibility to support their families and integrate into Turkish society.
#Turkey is already doing an admirable job supporting #refugees.Tweet This
Turkey has stepped up its efforts to reduce the migration flow to the EU by increasing its search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean as well as strengthening its land border controls. Turkey has also introduced a visa requirement for Syrians entering Turkey by air or sea, instead of keeping an open border, which has substantially decreased the numbers entering. However, further cooperation with the EU is needed to save lives, fight smugglers, and avoid tragedies like the drowning accident on January 22.
Now, it is time for us Europeans to keep our commitments and speed up the visa liberalization process for Turkish citizens entering the EU, the opening of chapters of Turkey’s EU accession negotiations, and the disbursement of financial support to improve living standards for refugees.
The question is not whether #Turkey will help Europe on #refugees, but how.Tweet This
The question is not whether Turkey will help Europe on refugees, but how it will help, having promised to do so. Following Germany’s lead, in November 2015 the EU offered Turkey €3 billion ($3.2 billion) in aid to stop the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe. Although EU countries agreed on the premise, there is no agreement on how to provide the funding. The reasons for the impasse could vary from European distrust to question marks over Turkey’s efficiency in using such money and the transparency of its disbursements. If the EU can overcome its internal disagreements on the funding, it then has to find creative solutions to allow EU-Turkish cooperation that will produce more efficient and transparent results to directly benefit Syrian refugees.
Turkey recently passed a law granting Syrians work permits in the country. But as the war in Syria enters its sixth year, the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has reached over 2.5 million and only 7,300 have been granted a permit so far. Turkey’s failed Syria policy, which even attempted to use radical Islamist groups as Turkish proxies to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is now irrelevant given the magnitude of the human flow. Yet there seems to be no country that can think ahead strategically and with a clear head about how to manage this crisis. Only time will reveal the final fate of millions of Syrians.
#Turkey will help Europe on #refugees for strategic reasons.Tweet This
Yes, Turkey will help Europe on refugees for strategic reasons. Until a few years ago, Turkey had big dreams. On the one hand, it was negotiating accession to the European Union. On the other hand, current Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was working on his idea of “zero problems” with neighboring countries and a neo-Ottoman leadership in the Middle East and North Africa.
Both dreams are now shattered into pieces. Talks with the EU were blocked, while neighboring friends turned into enemies. Even Russia, Turkey’s last non-NATO ally, is now in a row with Ankara. So, when Turkey cannot look eastward anymore, it has no other choice but to look westward again. Here, the refugees are the key.
Turkey is hosting no fewer than 2.5 million Syrian refugees and some 300,000 Iraqis. As the refugee crisis is destabilizing European governments, Europe needs Turkey more than ever. For Turkey it’s not about the €3 billion ($3.2 billion) promised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other EU leaders in a deal in November 2015—even though the money is obviously welcome. It’s about speeding up Turkey’s integration into the EU. And about the EU remaining silent on Turkey’s fight against the insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and annoying journalists. It’s a strategy that seems to work pretty well, so far.
Turkey will help, but only within limits set by its own interests and its willingness and ability to take some costly steps. It is very clear that Europe cannot address the refugee crisis without an effective partnership with Ankara. This will not be easy. Turks now have substantial expectations about what the EU is prepared to offer—money, of course, but also progress on EU-Turkey relations writ large.
Europe cannot address the #refugeecrisis without Ankara.Tweet This
Can Europe deliver? On the funding side, probably yes. Real movement on Ankara’s EU membership bid will be much harder to deliver. Turkey’s incentives in the crisis are not unlike those of many EU members: to keep the migrants moving north and west.
Indeed, Turkey’s problem of refugee absorption is already severe. Containing the refugee flow will require Turkey to close down two well-established transnational trafficking operations. On the Aegean coast, the web of criminal activity will be difficult to root out, and local officials may be reluctant to act. On Turkey’s Middle Eastern borders, this challenge exists alongside a more significant war economy that makes effective border control elusive. It is hardly surprising that so far, the flow of refugees and asylum seekers from Turkey has not abated.
The deal signed by Turkey and the EU in Brussels on November 29, 2015—a rather unusual exchange of reciprocal promises backed by a substantial amount of EU and member states’ money—was supposed to produce a resounding “yes” to this question.
The border between #Turkey and #Syria is still largely porous.Tweet This
Two months later, the question remains entirely open, for several reasons. First, the border between Turkey and Syria is still largely porous: some areas are controlled by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, while people can enter Turkey indirectly via the ferry service from Lebanon.
Second, mafia networks operating in broad daylight on Turkey’s Aegean coast continue to make staggering amounts of money from asylum seekers eager to cross to neighboring Greek islands. Some traffickers have been arrested, but the reduction in daily arrivals in Greece is not massive.
Third, under the terms of the EU deal, Turkey is entitled to expect tangible benefits in terms of accelerating visa exemption talks or revamping Turkey’s EU accession negotiations, conditional on the terms of these talks being fulfilled, which is not the case at this stage.
The last reason is that the EU promised €3 billion ($3.2 billion) to help Turkey accommodate Syrian refugees but has not yet fully mobilized the money.
It is therefore hoped that at some point, Turkey will help Europe on refugees, but this result might be attained in some distant future and might be the subject of more heated exchanges.
Turkey is willing to continue to host a large number of refugees, to offer better perspectives for those who cannot return to their homeland in the foreseeable future, and to step up the fight against smuggling networks. So yes, the Turkish government is helping Europe by curbing the flow of refugees.
No matter how much Ankara does, will it ever be satisfactory for the EU?Tweet This
The big question, however, is: No matter how much Ankara does, will it ever be satisfactory for EU leaders? As long as the Syria crisis remains unresolved, the influx of refugees can never be reduced to zero. That is an unrealistic expectation.
Turkey has to be judged on the actions it is taking. Providing Syrian refugees with work permits is a very positive measure. Now Ankara has to step up efforts to put all 700,000 Syrian children in Turkey into school and introduce a stricter visa policy.
The EU, meanwhile, still has to deliver. The financial support for refugees to which EU leaders agreed in November 2015 has not yet been released, and there is a lack of willingness in European countries to share part of Turkey’s burden by taking in some refugees via resettlement schemes.
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