Geef Europa, en niet alleen Turkije, de schuld van het mislukken van de migratiedeal

Door Kati Piri op 5 maart 2020

Chaos on Turkish-Greek border is also the result of Brussels’ failure to deliver on its side of 2016 deal.

When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan opened his country’s border with Greece, causing chaos in the region as thousands of vulnerable people tried to cross into Europe, the EU responded in a predictable way. It condemned Erdoğan for violating the terms of the EU-Turkey migration deal struck in 2016 that had helped stem the flow of migrants and refugees.

Laying the blame on the Turkish president is simply too easy. If the EU-Turkey deal is in tatters, it’s also because the EU was — at the very least — negligent in delivering on its side of the bargain.

Yes, Erdoğan’s move is tantamount to blackmail. He has weaponized vulnerable people — thousands of whom are now stuck in terrible conditions in a buffer zone between Greece and Turkey. He knows that the fastest way to get EU capitals to support his military and political goals in the Idlib province of Syria is to fuel fears of a new migration crisis. But it is also true that for years Turkey has shouldered a heavy burden on Europe’s behalf — for very little in return.

Careful not to endanger the migrant deal, the EU stayed silent on Erdoğan’s crackdown on fundamental freedoms, losing all its credibility among democratic forces in the country.

The deal Ankara signed in 2016 ensured that millions of Syrian refugees would stay in Turkey rather than cross over into Europe. In exchange, European leaders offered a number of promises that would supposedly benefit not only the refugee population but also Turkish citizens. At the time, some 1.1 million asylum seekers had landed on Greek shores via Turkey. European governments were ready to sign off on any deal that would end the influx.

To put a lid on the crisis, the EU put everything on the table — even measures that it had judged politically unpalatable for years. These included visa-free travel for Turkish citizens, an upgrade of the EU-Turkey Customs Union and an opening of new chapters in Turkey’s long-stalled EU accession process.

For the benefit of Syrians in Turkey, the EU also agreed to mobilize €6 billion in aid in three years and pledged to set up a large-scale resettlement scheme to EU countries for the most vulnerable refugees.

These were unrealistic promises that could not and would not be kept. Over the past four years, only about 25,000 refugees have been resettled by EU member countries — a drop in the ocean for Turkey, which has been hosting nearly 4 million Syrians, making it home to the largest population of refugees in the world. Similarly, Turkish citizens have yet to see any of the benefits they were promised.

Careful not to endanger the migrant deal, the EU stayed silent on Erdoğan’s crackdown on fundamental freedoms, losing all its credibility among democratic forces in the country.

But the deterioration of human rights and the rule of law in Turkey did put a break on plans to move ahead with visa liberalization and a modernized customs union. Accession talks effectively came to a stop.

The only part of the agreement that actually worked properly was the EU’s financial assistance of €6 billion, which provided refugees with a social safety net, education, employment and health care — mainly channelled through U.N. organizations.

The EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey (FRiT) became a flagship example of how to provide effective, innovative and meaningful EU support to refugees in a third country. This makes it all the more difficult to understand why neither the European Commission nor national governments have included funding for the program in the EU’s next seven-year budget, known as the Multiannual Financial Framework.

Without a direct crisis at the Continent’s borders, EU leaders apparently did not deem it necessary — or politically opportune — to address the need of new financial commitments to Turkey.

As we are not willing to welcome millions of refugees in Europe, we have no other option but to strike a new agreement with Turkey.

By the end of the summer, there will be no more EU funding for the education of 500,000 Syrian children. A cash-assistance program that currently benefits a total of 1.7 million recipients expires in the next 12 months.

The EU’s lack of commitment to its deal with Turkey is in no small part responsible for the situation we find ourselves in today.

The EU can’t keep sticking its head in the sand. Thousands of migrants are gathered on the border between Turkey and Greece with no intention of turning around. Meanwhile, a real inferno is unfolding in the rebel stronghold of Idlib, and some 950,000 refugees trapped in Syria at the Turkish border are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

As we are not willing to welcome millions of refugees in Europe, we have no other option but to strike a new agreement with Turkey. This time, we must make sure we steer clear of stop-gap solutions and make realistic commitments on which we can deliver.

Kati Piri

Kati Piri

Kati Piri (1979) is vicepresident van de S&D-groep op buitenlandse zaken, burgerlijke vrijheden, mensenrechten en defensie. Kati is lid van de commissie Buitenlandse Zaken en van de commissie Burgerlijke vrijheden en Mensenrechten. Daarnaast is ze onderdeel van de EU-Turkije commissie. Hiernaast is ze de Internationaal Secretaris in het partijbestuur van de Partij van de Arbeid.

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