Istanbul / Brussels (dpa) – Hundreds of thousands of refugees came to the European Union in 2016: under enormous pressure, the EU negotiated the so-called refugee agreement with the important transit country Turkey. Five years later, there are significantly fewer migrants. But the deal is fragile.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took an even tougher confrontational course in 2020. He fueled the conflict over natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, opened the border with Greece, and then proposed to his French colleague Emmanuel Macron to undergo a psychological examination.
For a few weeks, however, there have been more conciliatory signals from Ankara – which is also being recorded in Brussels: EU states initially postponed the planned sanctions in January. At the summit at the end of March, the EU should discuss future relations. Does the deal with the fickle partner have a future?
BORDER PROTECTION: In the agreement, Ankara pledges to take “all necessary measures” to prevent new sea and land routes for illegal migration from Turkey to the EU. Turkey violated this in the spring of 2020 by temporarily opening its borders with Greece. Yet fewer people arrived on the Greek islands. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, there were almost 60,000 in 2019. By way of comparison: in 2015 there were about 857,000. In 2020, 9,714 people crossed over, also because of Corona.
RELOCATION AND RETURN: Turkey commits to take back any migrant who arrives irregularly in the Greek islands and is not granted asylum. In return, the EU wants to include a Syrian other than Turkey for every Syrian returned. However, this barely works – partly because the Greek authorities could not keep up with the processing of asylum applications on the islands and the judicial appeals of the asylum seekers got stuck in the already overloaded courts. By March 2021, the EU had returned about 2,740 migrants to Turkey. The EU countries took in 28,621 people – considerably less than the prospect of the agreement.
In the Corona crisis, both sides have renounced the deal: Turkey has suspended the readmission of migrants; the EU stopped the relocation. However, the EU has been taking in Syrians again since August. “But Turkey has not resumed repatriations from the Greek islands. And that’s what we expect from them, ”said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson recently.
MONEY: The Ankara government regularly asks for more money. The deal is: Turkey will receive six billion euros to provide for the people. The money must flow to refugee projects. According to the European Commission, more than four billion euros have been disbursed so far. A further EUR 500 million was committed in 2020. And new aid is possible, the EU summit recently stated.
VISA FREEDOM: In 2016, the EU offered Turkey the prospect of lifting the visa requirement for Turkish nationals. However, there are 72 conditions attached to this. Ankara has met most of these conditions, but one requirement in particular is disputed: the amendment of anti-terror laws in Turkey. From Erdogan’s point of view, they cannot be defused because Turkey needs them, especially after the 2016 coup attempt, in the fight against terror. If this does not happen, there should also be no visa waiver.
EXTENSION OF THE CUSTOMS UNION: Turkey would benefit economically from this. The customs union to reduce trade barriers between the EU and Turkey needs to be modernized. But nothing came of it. This is partly due to the unresolved Cyprus issue. Turkey has occupied Northern Cyprus since 1974. There lies the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey. The whole island, on the other hand, has been a member of the EU since 2004.
ACCESSION TO THE EU: Accession negotiations with Turkey have been ongoing since 2005. The agreement states that the process needs to be relaunched. He is currently on hold. Some EU states even want the cancellation.
DEAL UPDATE: The deal benefits both parties. The EU has been unable to agree on a reform of asylum policy for years – as long as agreements with third countries seem a welcome solution. Turkey is benefiting from the support that creates permanent structures for the care of migrants. Most Syrians want to stay in Turkey. Should Erdogan stick to his more conciliatory course, the chances of further agreements are not bad. However, Josep Borrell, head of EU foreign policy, remained vague on Monday: there must be such a new agreement, he said.
The recent hitting of the Turkish president in a less harsh tone is probably due to the fact that he lost an ally in former US President Donald Trump. That is why he is returning to the EU.
SYRIANS AND SYRIAN WOMEN IN TURKEY: Officially, the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is 3.6 million, in fact there are probably 1 to 2 million unregistered refugees. Most of them work illegally; in 2019, for example, just over 30,000 of Syrian refugees had a work permit in Turkey. The Corona crisis has hit many hard.
SITUATION IN THE GREEK ISLANDS: The agreement is particularly criticized on this point. The migrant reception system in the Greek islands is “largely dysfunctional,” said Karoline Popp, a research assistant at the Expert Council on Integration and Migration. The camps have been overcrowded for years and people live in appalling conditions. Amnesty International calls the agreement a “pathetic mistake”.