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Turkish Observers Question Viability of EU Migrant Deal

  • Dorian Jones

Syrian women rest at the entrance of a mosque in the neighborhood of Basmane, which is filled with transient migrants on their way to Europe, in the Aegean port city of Izmir, western Turkey, March 8, 2016.

Syrian women rest at the entrance of a mosque in the neighborhood of Basmane, which is filled with transient migrants on their way to Europe, in the Aegean port city of Izmir, western Turkey, March 8, 2016.

EU and Turkish officials say they have reached an agreement in principle to resolve the migrant crisis. Turkey, which is hosting over two million Syrian refugees and is the migrants' main transit route into Europe, is seen as the key to stemming the exodus.

Pro-government newspapers in Turkey described the emergency summit on the migrant crisis held in Brussels as a historic victory for the country, with the EU agreeing to resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey in return for every Syrian refugee Turkey takes back from Greece.

But the United Nations and international human rights groups are questioning the legality of immediate deportations. Andrew Stroehlein of the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch said there were too many unanswered questions.

"Neither side is saying how they are going to assess people individually, how they are going to evaluate their needs for international protection. Two sides are promising these rapid fire mass expulsions not based on anyone’s particular situation," he said.

This year alone, more than 120,000 migrants made the perilous journey across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. More than 200 have died.

A man looks at a graveyard in Mytilene, Greece, Feb. 17, 2016, for refugees and migrants who drowned in their attempt to cross the Aegean sea from Turkey to the island of Lesbos.

A man looks at a graveyard in Mytilene, Greece, Feb. 17, 2016, for refugees and migrants who drowned in their attempt to cross the Aegean sea from Turkey to the island of Lesbos.

Questions are also being raised over whether the EU will be able to honor the commitment to accept an estimated tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. There is also concern about EU leaders' support of Ankara’s proposal to send Syrians back to safe-haven areas in Syria.

Stroehlein said the proposal was alarming.

"The suggestion that they might send back Syrians back to Syria is just appalling. The idea there is going to be safe zone in anything but in name is just unrealistic in the extreme. This would mean to send people to deadly danger. It's just a non-starter," he said.

For years, Turkish leaders have been lobbying hard for creating safe havens in Syria, in what analysts say is an attempt by Turkey to draw its Western partners into the Syrian conflict.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, left, speaks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, and European Council President Donald Tusk, center, after a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 8, 2016.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, left, speaks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, and European Council President Donald Tusk, center, after a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 8, 2016.

Turkish media are portraying the EU's agreement to swiftly ease visa requirements for Turks as Ankara's biggest victory in the summit. But observes say the proposal will cause alarm in many European countries already nervous about the scope of the migration.

That concern was well placed, said Cengiz Aktar, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Suleyman Sah University, who predicted a further surge in migration.

"Turkish asylum seekers arriving to Europe because of the ongoing hostilities in Turkish Kurdistan, Turkish jobless, and Turkish ISIL members need to be taken into account before making any decision to lift visa [restrictions] to 78 million Turks," said Aktar.

Analysts here are already questioning the sustainability of the proposed deal. EU and Turkish leaders will meet again next week to hammer out what they say is the final details of the plan. The meeting is already predicted to be a long one.

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