The Refugee Crisis Punctuates EU-Turkey Relations
On March 8th, European Union leaders met with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to discuss what has been dubbed as the “biggest challenge the European Union has ever faced.” More formally known as the Syrian refugee crisis, European leaders met in Brussels to specifically address the stress that the crisis has placed on Greece. Here the two groups began outlining an agreement that would eventually result in thousands of migrants sitting on European soil to be deferred to Turkey.
As the situation in Syria drags on, the migration crisis has continued to become an increasing pressure on European countries, specifically those located in the south. Due to its geographical position, Greece has found itself a host to hundreds of thousands of migrants, many of them Syrian refugees. However, the country is in the midst of an economic crisis and does not have the adequate resources to assist and process the growing influxes of people.
The refugee crisis can be viewed through different yet parallel lenses. On one hand, the crisis presents itself as a human rights issue, in which Western countries like Europe are responsible to take action as laid out in the Geneva Convention. On the other hand, European leaders face pressures from local politicians and their constituents in regards to accepting immigrants; often on the basis of xenophobia and concern for national security.
For months European politicians have constantly found themselves in a stalemate to construct an adequate response to the refugee crisis. It wasn’t until recently that France’s President Francois Hollande suggested collaborating with Turkey.
On March 18, the terms of the agreement between the European Union and Turkey were finalized, although the date of implementation was not confirmed. It was settled that in return for taking on the vast number of migrants, Turkey would be compensated with an estimated €6 billion over the next two years. While it currently houses 1.9 million refugees, Turkey was promised by European leaders that for every Syrian refugee sent back from Greece, Europe is to receive one from Turkey. However, this ‘resettlement program’ is capped at 78,000 refugees.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her content after the meeting when she stated, “I think we’ve reached an arrangement that has an irreversible momentum.” Merkel is known as one of the EU’s more active leaders when it comes to refugees, as she has earned herself the nickname “Mama Merkel.” She has succeeded in getting Germany to open its door to migrants, yet in return, faces a turbulent domestic electoral landscape.
Meanwhile, the agreement was immediately met with criticism from international humanitarian organizations. Amnesty International called the plan a “blow to human rights,” while a spokesperson for Doctors Without Borders remarked that it is “unfair and inhumane.” As a result of the agreement, the organization will be required to shut down assistance programs in Greece.
Humanitarian groups fear that the deferment of the masses to Turkey will not bode well for the refugees and migrants. While EU leaders promised that, “migrants will be protected in accordance to international standards and with the relevant international standards,” critics fear that Turkey will not abide. Based on Turkey’s mixed history with ethnic discrimination and violation of human rights, migrants are not only being deprived of a safe haven, but also face the risk of being denied basic human rights.
While the migrants may be blocked from Greece, there is a still a chance that they will explore dangerous sea routes to bypass Greece and seek admittance to Europe elsewhere. Unfortunately the use of dangerous sea routes could result in the increase of casualties and need for rescue missions. Such mission would likely require the assistance of Mediterranean countries like Greece and Italy, which could still cause stress on the resources and finances of these already-struggling countries.
There is only a matter of time before Turkey will want to talk about its potential EU membership; something that the EU has pushed back for years.