Analysis | Did Turkey just kill the refugee deal with Europe?
Analysis: Did Turkey just kill the refugee deal with Europe?
March 15, 2017 12:00 AM
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday sharply escalated the diplomatic confrontation with the Netherlands, blaming the nation’s “corrupt” character for the 1995 massacre of thousands of Bosnians under the watch of a Dutch contingent of peacekeepers.
By Emily Tamkin / Foreign Policy
On Monday night, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said that the European Union had not kept up its side of a deal whereby Turkey worked to help halt the flood of Syrian refugees into Europe, in exchange for aid and a shot at visa-free travel. He reportedly said that means the deal is dead.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday sharply escalated the diplomatic confrontation with the Netherlands, blaming the nation’s “corrupt” character for the 1995 massacre of thousands of Bosnians under the watch of a Dutch contingent of peacekeepers. The same day, the Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized the EU for siding with the Netherlands in this latest diplomatic dispute.
The spat has a little to do with refugees and a lot to do with Turkey’s troubled relationship with Europe. More broadly, this speaks to Turkish frustrations with the EU — and with domestic political concerns ahead of a big April referendum to expand the powers of the Turkish president.
“The deal was dead from day one,” David Phillips, director of Columbia University’s Program on Peace-building and Rights and author of “An Uncertain Ally: Turkey Under Erdogan’s Dictatorship,” told Foreign Policy, because the EU never intended to implement visa-free travel.
“Turkey’s candidacy for the EU was never a realistic prospect given European attitudes towards Turkey. The European Parliament suspended negotiations in response to Turkey’s egregious human rights abuses after the failed coup of July 15. There is zero chance of this turning around in the near term. No chance of singing kumbaya with Erdogan,” Mr. Phillips said.
Last March, a deal between the EU and Turkey concerning refugees came into effect. Essentially, it said that “irregular migrants” who came to Greece from Turkey would be sent back. For every Syrian refugee returned to Turkey, a Syrian would be resettled from Turkey into the EU. The deal also promised renewed talks on Turkish accession to EU; visa liberalization provided certain conditions were met by Turkey; and a substantial aid package from the EU to Turkey.
The deal may not be over just yet. Sinan Ülgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, pointed out that Turkey would also lose leverage by pulling out of the deal — and gain virtually nothing in return. “There’s no decision yet on the Turkish side,” Mr. Ülgen said.
But if Turkey does make good on its threat to end the deal, what does that mean for refugee flows? It’s not entirely clear. Turkey did stop, or at least slow down, the flow of migrants from Turkey to nearby Greek islands, said Jeff Rathke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But refugee numbers were shrinking, anyway, since migrants couldn’t advance farther than Greece, thanks to the closure of the Balkan route.
“Times have changed significantly,” Mr. Rathke said. “Even if you had massive numbers going to Greece right now, they wouldn’t be able to go further.”
Bloomberg News and The Associated Press contributed.