EU 'sells soul' in migrant deportation deal with Turkey
Summit will propose rapid deportation of migrants to Turkey, and sealing of Balkans, to halt flows of migrants
By Matthew Holehouse, Brussels and Melanie Hall, Berlin6:36PM GMT 06 Mar 2016
European leaders stand accused of “selling their soul” as they hope to secure a deal with Turkey on Monday for the “large scale and rapid” deportation of migrants.
David Cameron will join his counterparts in Brussels to push Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, to end the perilous migrant sea crossings to Greece and accept the removal of tens of thousands of refugees gathered in the country.
Dimitris Avramapoulos, the EU’s migration commissioner, said Greece, already struggling with a buildup of 30,000 migrants, was expected to receive "another 100,000" by the end of March.
Leaders will discuss a strategy to contain the crisis in Greece. In the past fortnight the flow of migrants northwards has fallen to just a few hundred a day due to the effective sealing of the Greek-Macedonian border.
The country will now be flooded with aid, while police and asylum officials will be deployed from across Europe in the hope of relocating to other European countries or deporting to Turkey the migrants that remain.
A draft statement prepared for the leaders, circulated among ambassadors in Brussels on Sunday, declares: “Irregular flows of migrants along the western Balkans route are coming to an end; this route is now closed. The EU will stand by Greece in this difficult moment and will do its utmost to help manage the situation that has arisen as a consequence of this development.”
The text warns leaders must "stay vigilant” to the risk of new routes opening up.
The EU’s relocation scheme has so far failed, moving just a few hundred migrants out of a target of 160,000. Officials say the open route through the Balkans discouraged refugees from taking part in the scheme that intends to fly those eligible for asylum to new homes around the bloc. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek premier, will on Monday call for the scheme to be stepped up immediately and in large numbers to ease the burden.
Macedonia on Sunday tightened the grip on Greece further by only allowing Iraqis and Syrians through its border if they are from a city considered to be at war. It means that a migrant from, for example, Aleppo will be allowed through but one from Damascus or Baghdad will not.
It also emerged that Macedonia, which aspires to EU membership, had sent EU states requests for fortifying the border on March 1 that included equipment to build a further 300km of fencing and a camp for 400 people. The shopping list also details police crowd control equipment including acoustic weapons, pepper spray, tasers, and grenades that project rubber balls.
Milos Zeman, the Czech president, suggested that EU leaders could “could kill two birds with one stone" by allowing Greece to pay down its vast debts by hosting detention centres on its soil.
Another 18 people drowned on Sunday after their boat sank on the crossing from Greece to Turkey. Despite Turkish pledges to patrol the coast, still up to 3000 people a day make the journey on rubber vessels and numbers are expected to surge as the weather improves.
Under a deal sketched out with Turkey last year, its accession process to the EU would be re-energised and €3 billion (£2.3 billion) in aid awarded in exchange for curbing the migrant flow.
But it comes amid a new assault on civil society. On Friday police raided the offices of Zaman, a top-selling newspaper critical of the government.
Sunday’s edition featured a story about Recep Tayyip Erdogan's planned reception to mark International Women's Day and the president's visit to the site of a bridge being built across Istanbul's Bosphorus Strait. It contained no coverage of the protests by the newspapers’ supporters which were dispersed by tear gas and water cannon.
Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the European Parliament’s liberal bloc, said: “Outsourcing our problems to Turkey is naive. We should not sell our soul for a deal with a country simply because we are incapable of dealing with our problems and implementing a real European solution."
"Again we continue to accept empty promises such as the returning of all non-Syrian migrants reaching Greek islands back to Turkey. In other words, we are accepting a deal to return migrants to a country which imprisons journalists, attacks civil liberties, and with a highly worrying human rights situation".
Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister, played down the chances of a Turkish accession. "It will be a long time before we reach the end of negotiations with Turkey," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr. "This is a question for the coming years, it is not a worry at the present time."
Johannes Hahn, the EU's enlargement commissioner, wrote on Twitter: “Extremely worried about latest developments on Zaman newspaper which jeopardises progress made by Turkey in other areas.”
He added that human rights are “not negotiable” for prospective EU members.
Turkey was declared eligible to join the EU in 1997 and started accession negotiations in 2005, but the continuing dispute over human rights issues have repeatedly delayed talks.
domingo, 6 de março de 2016
What’s behind EU-Turkey alliance of convenience / EU 'sells soul' in migrant deportation deal with Turkey
What’s behind EU-Turkey alliance of convenience
Ankara refuses to be Europe’s ‘junkyard’ for migrants, but eagerly wants Merkel’s support.
By ROY GUTMAN 3/6/16, 11:59 AM CET Updated 3/6/16, 9:27 PM CET
ANKARA, Turkey — With an increasingly authoritarian president cracking down on critics at home and pursuing Kurdish militants in southern Turkey and across the borders in Syria and Iraq, Turkey is a risky partner for Europe in its quest to stop illegal migration.
Just hours after European Council President Donald Tusk was closing in on a deal with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on cooperation Friday, Turkish riot police stormed the offices of Zaman, the country’s biggest opposition newspaper, and installed trustees who’ll soon shut it down.
The EU gave Ankara a slap on the wrist on Saturday, and EU leaders have otherwise been conspicuously silent as Erdoğan has lashed out at independent media.
Europe sees Turkey as its savior in the refugee crisis. It needs Erdoğan to stop migrants from taking off from Turkey’s shores in flimsy dinghies to reach Greece.
The unspoken quid pro quo: Ankara takes back migrants, Europe goes easy on Turkey’s human rights violations
Erdoğan needs Europe, too. By lending it a helping hand in time of need, Turkey hopes to win a friend in the West, now that its other NATO ally, the U.S., appears to be walking away from Turkish security concerns about the war in Syria.
“Turkey has no more friends, and the EU has no more hope,” says Murat Erdoğan (no relationship to the president), an assistant professor at the Hacettepe University in the Turkish capital, who directs the Migration and Politics Research Center. “Because of that we may get more cooperation,” Erdoğan said.
EU pushes on open door in Ankara
The engagement of convenience between the EU and Turkey could be sealed on Monday at the European Council meeting in Brussels. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will pledge cooperation in solving the crisis the EU is increasingly seeing as an existential threat, with relatively modest demands in return.
The deal between the EU and Turkey shaping up now is built on understandings German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached with Davutoğlu and Erdoğan. It calls for Turkey to step up police and coast guard operations to stop the nightly smuggling flotilla, which even in the dead of winter ferried nearly 2,000 people a day, and to accept the return of a great many more migrants who cross illegally into Greece.
The EU will give €3 billion for education and employment-related projects to help give the 2.7 million registered Syrian refugees in Turkey more reason to stay here. Turkey’s condition was that the EU will fast-track plans to drop visa requirements for Turks traveling to the EU, to take effect as early as this autumn.
There’s also an unspoken quid pro quo — that Europe go easy on Turkey’s human rights violations. “They will lower their criticism on human rights and freedom of the press,” said Erdoğan, the university professor. “It will have a negative affect on Turkish society.”
Europe is desperate. But so is Turkey.
There are 2.7 million Syrians registered as refugees in Turkey plus hundreds of thousands who roam around the country without any papers. Thousands a day make their way to the Turkish coast to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece and onward to make their way along the Balkans to Germany, even though the borders are shutting down.
While nearly everyone has praised Turkey’s hospitality for hosting so many refugees, Turkey and the U.S. no longer agree on a strategy to end the war in Syria. Their relationship is under severe strain.
Turkey vehemently opposes the U.S. decision to back a controversial Kurdish militia to fight the Islamic State extremists in Syria. Ankara was miffed that the U.S. negotiated directly with Russia a ceasefire in Syria. Adding to its anxiety, is Washington’s silence as Moscow mounts airstrikes in Syria, even in violation of the ceasefire.
So even as the EU is raising its demands on Turkey, they are pushing on an open door.
During a recent tour of countries on the Balkan route, Tusk was unusually loud and abundantly clear: To “all potential economic migrants: Do not come to Europe,” he said. And Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, calls for a near-complete stop. “We need to bring it back to a level from which we can see zero,” he said Friday.
Turkey agrees with the broad sentiment. Appearing alongside Tusk in Ankara on Friday, Prime Minister Davutoğlu called human smuggling a “crime against humanity.”
No ‘magic wands’
Where EU leaders err, Davutoğlu is sure to tell them in Brussels on Monday, is in their time frame: They expect that Turkey can stop people on the move just by snapping its fingers.
It is “out of the question to immediately stop the flow of migrants,” foreign ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgiç told reporters here. “There’s no magic wand in our hands.”
It is very likely that this crisis has no immediate resolution, experts say.
“We are at the beginning of the crisis,” Professor Erdoğan said. “People will be coming for years. They come from very bad circumstances. They risk their lives and those of their children. They will try to go to Europe, and we need cooperation with Europe.”
‘This is a golden opportunity for Turkey to save Greece, to reinforce Turkish-German friendship, to be a real voice for refugees’
The measures Turkey is to adopt are more short-term fixes to help ease the EU’s political crisis, not solve it. The migration crisis has split the Continent apart, particularly after southeast European countries fenced off their once-open borders or introduced caps on asylum requests, putting enormous pressure on Greece.
Turkey has acted to assist its historic protagonist across the Aegean, not to improve relationship with Athens but to get closer once again to Germany. Merkel is desperately trying to save austerity-hit Greece from collapsing under the refugee burden.
“This is a golden opportunity for Turkey to save Greece, to reinforce Turkish-German friendship, to be a strong actor, to be a real voice for refugees,” said Metin Çorabatır, president of the Asylum and Migration Research Center, an Ankara think tank. “But this needs a vision.”
Turkey is pressing ahead with its demands to the EU, hoping Germany could push some of them through.
Besides visa free status for its population of some 80 million, Turkey will seek a resumption of EU accession talks. However, no one here expects an early conclusion to negotiations that stalled decades ago. Turks see their future in Europe, not the Middle East, but they realize they may never overcome the reservations of Greece, Cyprus, Germany and France to Turkish accession.
Caught by surprise
One reason for the lack of a migration strategy, Turkish officials say, is that mass migration by dinghy developed into a major crisis last year when no one expected a mass exodus of Syrians and many Iraqis, Afghanis and others joining them on the journey to Europe. “Nobody had foreseen this crisis,” said a senior Turkish official, who asked not to be named since he was not authorized to speak on the record to foreign media. “If they had been, strategies would have been made in advance.”
Turkey has already taken significant steps to alleviate the suffering of refugees in its country, giving some Syrians a legal status that will enable them to work legally. But other steps it has taken are more controversial, including closing its borders to those recently fleeing Aleppo and other besieged cities in the north, leaving tens of thousands stranded at the border.
Frustrated by America’s position on Syria, Ankara seeks European allies.
War rages on in Syria, with daily Russian airstrikes and Assad regime forces shelling of civilian targets despite the ceasefire that is to remain in effect for another week. Turkey has all but closed its major border crossings. Were Turkey to reopen its border, Professor Erdoğan predicts that 1.5 million Syrians would cross into Turkey.
Earlier this year, Ankara introduced visa requirements for Syrians, Iraqis and Libyans.
Turkey also has committed publicly to complete accords to return illegal economic emigrants to 14 countries from South Asia to North Africa, whose nationals now comprise half the number of migrants landing on Greek shores, according to an EU report issued Friday.
Tusk said that a “fast and large scale mechanism” to ship back illegal migrants from Greece might be “the most promising method” because it would “effectively break the business model of the smugglers.”
But Turkey doesn’t want to be the “junkyard of these immigrants,” the senior Turkish official said in an interview. Such agreements “are good in theory, but I doubt (they work) in practice.” No one wants to make agreements with Turkey “because they have to get their own people back.”
Should this approach fail, Turkey may have no choice but to broaden visa requirements, a step it is loathe to take because of its impact on tourism, a major source of national income.
The Turkish police and coast guard have also stepped up their activities to halt the outbound dinghies. According to the EU’s latest update on joint efforts to curb illegal migration, Turkish authorities in the course of February arrested some 600 smugglers and their accomplices.
Yet 56,335 migrants crossed the Aegean in February, or 1,942 per day, the report issued Friday said. This is well below the November peak of 214,792 or 5,146 a day.
What officials here are hoping for is to reduce the numbers to fewer than 1,000 a day. They hope that Germany and other north European states will then organize direct transfers of Syrian refugees by air from Turkey, making the dangerous sea journeys all the more unattractive.
The strong rhetoric now being used by EU and Turkish officials masks the uncertainty about what measures will work. It also underlines the inability of both parties to do anything about the root cause for the flight of Syrians, who comprise half those attempting to seek safety in Europe: to stop the war.
The Assad regime has used all available means to kill its political opponents, whom it uniformly labels as terrorists. Turkey has consistently advocated for a no-fly zone over Syria, which the Obama administration has consistently rejected.
Since September 30, after Russia began its airstrikes against U.S.-backed moderate rebels and the U.S. confined itself to the sidelines, Turkey has said it won’t intervene unilaterally in Syria to set up the no-fly zone, and the EU has little capacity to act without the U.S..
Merkel in mid-February endorsed Turkey’s repeated calls to set up a safe area inside Syria but she conditioned her support on approval by the U.N. Security Council, where Russia wields the veto.
Habertürk, a moderate pro-government daily, reported that Merkel will support Turkish concerns about the Kurdish People’s Protection Units militia (YPG), which Turkey views as a terrorist offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The Obama administration, however, sees it as a close ally in the battle against ISIL extremists in Syria.
Donald Tusk wants Turkey to break the people smugglers’ business model.
What isn’t clear is the extent to which EU leaders will endorse Turkey’s strong condemnation of the Assad regime as the ultimate cause for the refugee crisis. “Neither Turkey nor European Union is responsible for the Syrian crisis,” Davutoğlu said as he stood alongside Tusk in Ankara.
“Those who are responsible for the Syrian crisis are the [Assad] regime oppressing its nationals, and terrorist organizations … and some international actors that support this regime and those who support these terror organizations,” Davutoğlu said.
Tusk refrained from assigning blame. “We agree that the refugee flows still remain far too high and that further action is needed. It is for Turkey to decide how best to achieve such a reduction,” Tusk said.