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    Will Turkey solve the refugee crisis for Europe?

    EU decided last year on an action plan which would reduce the number of refugees coming from Turkey to Europe by closer cooperation on migration management. This was supposed to take place by cooperation on preventing irregular migration, by Turkey readmitting refugees whose asylum applications had been rejected and by EU economic support to Turkey for supporting Syrian refugees in need of temporary protection.

    In return for its cooperation, Turkey would receive 3 Billion Euro in financial assistance. The enlargement negotiations, which had been dormant with no opening of new chapters, would be resumed. Last but not the least, visa requirements for Turkish citizens to the Schengen area would be lifted by October 2016 once Turkey met the conditions in a roadmap for visa liberalization.

    An EU Spokesperson told the Brussels Times that the date for full implementation of the readmission agreement, which entered into force already on 1.10.2014, was brought forward last November and is now set for June 2016. “Progress on the agreement, notably on the obligation to take back third country nationals, goes hand-in-hand with the visa liberalization process for Turkey.”

    However, the promised EU funding to Turkey was delayed and only last week (3.2) did the EU member states agree on the details of € 3 Billion Refugee Facility for Turkey. The Commission announced that it would increase its contribution to €1 billion, compared to the €500 million originally proposed in November.

    European Commission First-Vice President Frans Timmermans said the “The money we are putting on the table will directly benefit Syrian refugees in Turkey, helping to improve their access to education and healthcare in particular.” He also welcomed the measures already taken by the Turkish authorities to give Syrian refugees access to the labour market and to reduce the flows.

    EU has high expectations on Turkey and hopes that it will stem the flow of migrants to Europe and offer them a safe heaven. Nothing however has been done yet by the Turkish authorities to prevent the migrants trying to cross the perilous see from the Turkish mainland to the Greek islands; almost every day people are drowning.

    And recently Turkey closed its own border to Syria and seems to be establishing a buffer zone inside Syria for refugees fleeing from the Aleppo region which currently is under attack by Syrian government forces supported by foreign Shiite militia and the Russian air force.

    Most progress seems to have been made in the enlargement negotiations after the European Commission last October postponed a critical progress report to promote the joint action plan with Turkey. Chapter 17 on economic and monetary policy was opened in December 2015 and the Commission has committed to complete the preparatory work during the first quarter of 2016 for opening five more chapters, incl. the important rule of law chapters (23 and 24).

    Currently 12 member states have national lists of safe countries and they differ from each-other. Only one member state has already designated Turkey as a safe country. The Commission proposed already last September a common EU list covering Turkey and all candidate countries in the Western Balkan. Such a list concerns only nationals or stateless persons habitually residing in those countries.

    This proposal is currently passing through a so-called co-decision process with the European Parliament and the Council. For a country to be considered safe for it has to be a democracy where there is no threat of violence and armed conflict.

    With the increase of violence and the outbreak of hostilities with the Kurds in the south-eastern part of the country, Turkey may not meet the criterion. According to news report in International New York Times, Turkish forces are bombarding Kurdish neighborhoods with many civilian casualties.

    Crucial for the success of the action plan will be whether Turkey can be considered as a safe third country or first country of asylum to which asylum seekers, whose applications have been rejected by EU member states, can be returned. The readmission agreement will concern third country nationals who have illegally travelled through a country and have no right to asylum.

    It wasn’t immediately clear from the Commissions reply whether Syrian and Iraqi nationals who have fled to Europe via Turkey may legally be returned to Turkey. Considering the EU average acceptance rate in asylum applications, around 45 % in 2015, this would mean that hundreds of thousands of refugees might be expelled to Turkey.

    M. Apelblat
    The Brussels Times
    m.apelblat@brusselstimes.com