With Ankara encouraging migrants to cross into Europe, does the EU-Turkey migration deal need a relook?
President Erdogan's lashes out at Europe
After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's announcement of letting refugees into Europe, considerable mayhem ensued on the land border between Greece and Turkey.
Thousands of refugees and other migrants have been trying to get into Greece over the past two weeks after Turkey declared that its previously guarded borders with Europe were thrown open.
Turkey already houses more than 3.5 million Syrian Refugees, and President Erdogan's announcement is signalling that Turkey cannot keep them out any longer.
This announcement alarmed the European Union (EU) countries, as they are still reeling from the political effects of the 2015 migrant crisis. President Erdogan has demanded that Europe must be more proactive in sharing the burden.
A deal that went sour
In March 2016, the European Commission had paid Turkey more than €3 billion, to keep refugees out of Europe. The amount agreed on was €6 billion. Turkey now demands a reworking of this agreement.
The pact reached four years ago, had dramatically reduced arrivals into the EU by 97 percent. Turkey utilised this aid money to step up border patrols and host millions of displaced Syrians. Financial assistance from the EU fund reaches Turkey through projects to western NGO's and is not delivered to the government coffers.
The EU, on its part, promised a more liberalised visa regime of up to six months to the Schengen zone. Modernisation of the EU-Turkey customs union was inked along with a carefully tailored repatriation mechanism. As of 2018, the EU had not held up its part of the bargain, and Turkey threatened to terminate the agreement sooner or later. Turkey stopped accepting asylum seeker requests and began denying health care nearly three years ago. Poor Syrians were forced to return to conflict-ridden zones.
The Second Wave of Migrants
The power balance in Syria has been shifting rapidly in favour of the Syria-Russia alliance. It suddenly manifested itself at the beginning of this year when Syrian forces made swift advances in Northern Syria and threatened to capture Idlib, the last rebel-held stronghold. Over a million Syrians fled towards the Turkish border but were denied entry. Turkey wanted the EU to intervene and pressurise Russia to stop the Idlib onslaught. When the EU showed no inclination to do so, President Erdogan's announced that Turkey could no longer accommodate any more refugees.
Thousands of refugees and other migrants have been trying to get into Greece over the past two weeks. Greek authorities have tried their best, to keep these refugees out, thwarting over 38,000 border crossings and arresting 268 people. Interestingly, only 4 percent of the migrants are Syrians with the bulk being Afghans and other economic migrants. Europe is in the middle of the pandemic COVID 19, and the Syrian refugee crisis is not making things any easier for the European governments.
EU officials had agreed to review the implementation of the 2016 agreement to deal with the refugees. In a four-party video conference, Turkey, France, Germany and Britain discussed the current migrant crisis and Syria's rebel enclave of Idlib, the main trigger for the current crisis. The Syrian-Russian offensive has ground to a halt after Turkey inflicted heavy losses on the Syrian Army and President Putin and President Erdogan agreed on an Idlib ceasefire.
Greece: caught in the middle
Greece, the door to Fortress Europe, has always been on the receiving end of the migrant crisis. Last year alone, 74,600 people arrived, signalling a 151 percent jump from 2017 according to the UN refugee agency.
Greece describes the latest development as a threat to its national security as there are increased clashes between the locals and migrants. In order to ease the pressure on Greece, the EU has offered to give a migrant €2000 per person to go home under a voluntary scheme. This scheme is to be available only till the end of March and is helpful in situations where people are economic migrants. The extra money will come from the €700 million emergency aid for Greece from the EU budget promised after President Erdogan's announcement.
With the rise of the IS and the Syrian civil war, Turkey rose to the occasion and became the outpost to defy terror not only for her own sake but also for her NATO allies. Nine years since the start of the crisis, NATO has been lukewarm in its support of Turkey. The recent developments in Idlib province have not helped relations between NATO and Turkey.
Human lives are at stake in such situations. Migrants wait between borders while greater political games are played. The disbursement of the EU fund (or lack thereof) to Turkey has exacerbated the human rights situation. The same can be seen by the EU trust fund for Africa, which pays countries to keep migrants on their soil.
Greece is praised for its efforts in the situation and the fund for Greece is also a welcome step to ease the pressure. Will Turkey's move mean that Greece will now be in charge of keeping migrants out of Europe? Unfortunately, the EU cannot keep throwing money at its problems. It must work out a viable way to deal with the migration crisis in the long term.
Image Courtesy: The Washington Post