Syrian refugees sitting in a stadium.
  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.

A look at the EU-Turkey Action Plan

by Idil Atak
17 October, 2015

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.

It is worth noting that the “migration crises” is depicted as a refugee issue in the Action Plan’s first section regarding the temporary protection of Syrians in Turkey, whereas the same crises is presented as an irregular migration problem in the second section dealing with the Syrians trying to leave Turkey for Europe. This clearly shows how the EU manipulates the migration crises for political purposes. As soon as they leave Turkey, Syrian refugees become, according to this discourse, undeserving of international protection because of their irregular entry into Europe. They are portrayed as a security threat, as people who should be intercepted, detained and forcibly deported.

The Action Plan deliberately turns a blind eye not only to the EU Member States’ international obligations, but also to some well-documented facts:

First, the temporary protection of Syrian refugees in Turkey is clearly a band-aid solution. It is unlikely to address the needs and vulnerability of refugees. Turkey has limited reception and integration capacity, and little political will to offer effective protection to refugees.

Second, the vast majority of Syrian refugees are not willing to stay in Turkey which, in addition to the above-mentioned difficulties, is also undergoing an unprecedented political turmoil.

Third, the EU expects Turkey to ensure that “the asylum procedures that have been initiated are completed, so that the status of refugee is granted without delay to those whose asylum requests are positively assessed.” However, these refugees can’t be offered durable solutions in Turkey that ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention with a geographical limitation.

Fourth, despite the fact that the Action Plan acknowledges that “the current crises requires solidarity, togetherness and efficiency”, it is not clear how the EU Member States will be involved in the fair distribution of effort in helping refugees. There is only one cursory line in the Action Plan which vaguely refers to “the EU’s commitment to support existing Member State and EU resettlement schemes and programmes.” Only a few countries in Europe take the majority of refugees. Since the EU unveiled its quota plan to resettle 160,000 refugees last September, the first few refugees have recently been relocated from Italy. But the progress is very slow.

Lastly, the Action Plan only refers to Syrian refugees in Turkey. It ignores the plight of refugees fleeing war, conflict, ethnic and religious tensions in many other countries such as Afghanistan, Irak, and Eritrea.

In sum, the EU-Turkey Action Plan doesn’t add new impetus to the efforts to tackle the “migration crises”. Turkey uses Syrian refugees as a tool for political leverage in its relationships with the EU, including the visa liberalization. The EU wants Turkey to prevent refugees from arriving in Europe. Hypocrisy at work.

The author is Assistant professor at Ryerson University’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology and Research associate at the Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law.

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