Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel met Sunday in Istanbul. Photo: Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Press, Getty Images
The new deal with the European Union is the quid pro quo that Turkey has been engineering for a long time, in the face of political opposition to its bid to become a member state of the EU. In exchange of stopping migrants on Turkey’s own territory, Europe will offer Turkish citizens visa liberalisation and accelerate the process allowing Turkey to join the EU.
Turkey knew that, one day, Europe would need Turkey more than Turkey would need Europe. And it’s been a long time coming: the Intergovernmental Consultations (IGC) resulted from efforts, in the early 80s, by European countries to push Turkey to stop on its territory refugees fleeing the Iranian revolution of 1979. Turkey knows it is a key player on this issue and has been waiting to be able to exercise all its influence.
Many questions remain, since Turkey will be facing the same kind of hurdles that European States are facing now. How will Turkey “stem the flow”? Will it be materially possible? Will Turkey resort to egregious human rights violations, through arresting, detaining and deporting thousands of migrants with little due process guarantees? Will we see a type of Nauru or PNG situation at the doors of Europe? How will national courts and the European courts react to such a situation?
And, ultimately, how does it make sense to make access to an economic integration union dependent on one country’s ability to reduce migratory pressures for the other members of the Union?
Migrants, mainly from Syria, listened to a speech about their future in September while resting in a Turkish stadium before crossing to Europe. Photo: Associated Press.
The Joint Action Plan signed between the EU and Turkey last week aims at addressing the current “migration crises”. Turkey is hosting more than two million migrants most of them fleeing the war in Syria. Some 600,000 migrants arrived in Europe this year, mostly from Turkey.
The Action Plan identifies “addressing the root causes leading to the influx of Syrians” as one of its main objectives. Oddly, it is totally silent on these causes, and on how the cooperation between the EU and Turkey will help tackling them.
The Action Plan has two main focuses:
- Turkey is expected to offer temporary protection to Syrian refugees. In exchange, the EU promises to mobilize funds “in the most flexible and rapid way possible”;
- Turkey has to contain Syrian refugees and prevent them from crossing the EU’s external borders. Turkish authorities are required to strengthen their cooperation with the EU and implement a series of repressive measures against irregular migration. In exchange, the EU will consider “the visa liberalisation dialogue”, which involves the easing of the visa requirements for Turkish nationals.
Syrian refugees are removed from the back of a truck in Varna, Bulgaria. One man was shot dead while trying to enter the country from Turkey. Photograph: REX Shutterstock
A refugee shot dead at a border by a European police officer is a very distressing piece of news, even if it results from the law of (ever so foreseeable) “unintended consequences”. It is to the credit of Europeans that this hasn’t happened before.
But let’s be honest: this is only an addition to the heavy death toll that has resulted from prohibition policies preventing migrants to access the EU and thus pushing them to use smuggling rings and clandestine routes. This death has happened because anti-immigration nationalist populist rhetoric is allowed to dominate the public debate in most EU countries and because closure and repression are announced as the ultimate collective goals of the EU, as exemplified by the recent EU-Turkey agreement.
Unfortunately, this “serious incident” is bound to repeat itself if European politicians do not change their policy objectives and their repressive practices at borders.
A group of migrants making their way over a meadow after crossing the border between Austria and Germany in Wegscheid near Passau, Germany. Photograph: Matthias Schrader/Associated Press.
Closing the borders in Europe would be precisely the wrong reaction. It would not prevent migrants from coming, and would further drive them underground. It would thus entrench smuggling rings, and would lead to further restrictive measures, which would be costly and mostly useless. Such closure would exacerbate social and political tensions between States and within societies, continue to maintain chaos at borders, and would lead to validating the inflammatory anti-immigration discourse of the nationalist populist movements.
The only way forward is to accept mobility, to regulate it, to offer mobility solutions to those who need it: resettlement programmes for refugees, visas to come and look for work for the others. This means that smugglers would be mostly ousted from the mobility market and that States would reclaim an effective control of the border. Effective control of the border means that States actually know who comes into and who leaves their territory, which they don’t at present, since smugglers are the ones deciding who crosses the border, and which they won’t if they go down the closure path.
Two million migrants are estimated to be in Turkey, many trying to reach the European Union from its shores. Photo: AFP
It is quite extraordinary to see that European authorities are still doggedly pursuing an agenda of externalisation of migration controls, that is, trying to push neighbouring countries to do the “dirty job” of detecting, detaining and deporting irregular migrants before they reach European external borders and thus become a “European problem”.
This objective has, with a few exceptions (such as Morocco), repeatedly failed to materialise in the past 20 years, in good part for lack of incentives in favour of such transit countries, but also because it has been proven that irregular migration is not deterred by harsh treatment in transit or destination countries. At most, it is sometimes slowed or rerouted.