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OPINION: Why the EU-Turkey Migrant Deal will Blow Up in Everybody’s Face

By April 1, 2016 No Comments

By Gwynne Dyer (Originally published on Postmedia Network, March 30, 2016)

On Monday, the deal made between the European Union and Turkey to stem the flood of refugees into the EU goes into effect. It will promptly blow up in everybody’s face, for three reasons.

First problem: the EU won’t be able to “process” the arriving migrants as fast as new ones arrive. Migrants are arriving on the Greek islands of Chios and Lesbos at the rate of almost 2,000 a day, and as the weather improves even larger numbers will attempt the short sea crossing from Turkey.

Up to now the migrants have quickly been moved on to the mainland of Greece, but the Turkish-EU deal means that new arrivals will now pile up on the islands in detention camps while awaiting a decision on their asylum claims. Conditions will become intolerable and there will be protests.

Second problem: within one or two weeks the time will come for the first rejected asylum claimants to be sent back to Turkey. Having spent all their money and endured great hardships to get this far, they will not go back willingly. It will require physical force to get some of them on the planes or boats that will take them back – enough force for real casualties.

Third problem: by June, as part of this deal, Turkish citizens will have the right to visa-free travel to the European Union. Around one-fifth of Turkey’s population, some 15-20 million people, are Kurds. Since last summer, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, having broken a two-year ceasefire with the separatists of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), has been waging a pitiless war against them in the towns and cities of the southeast.

Some parts of Kurdish-majority cities in Turkey now resemble the war-ravaged cities of Syria. The Kurds, as Turkish citizens, will be able to enter most EU countries not as refugees but as tourists — and it would be very surprising if several million of them do not avail themselves of the opportunity. But the EU’s goal in this deal was to stop the mass migration, not to change it from Syrian Arabs to Turkish Kurds.

The goal behind this weirdly dysfunctional deal was twofold: to cut the total number of migrants drastically — more than a million made it into the EU last year — and at the same time to end the deaths that happen during the sea crossing: 460 drownings out of the 143,000 who tried to cross so far this year. But it simply will not work.

The only way to really seal a frontier is to kill people who try to cross it illegally. After the first few hundred deaths most people get the message and stop trying. (The Iron Curtain worked pretty well, for example.) But the EU isn’t ready to do that yet – so how can it discourage migrants from making the crossing?

What if we ship almost all those who make it to the Greek islands back to Turkey, but promise to take one legitimate Syrian refugee out of the camps in Turkey for every Syrian we send back? The Turks will go along with it if we give them $3.3 billion now, promise them another $3.3 billion later, and allow visa-free travel to the EU for Turkish citizens. The deal is win-win all round. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, there are about 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. If they have a legal claim, why should they wait in the queue? And if they are Iraqi or Afghan refugees or African migrants, where is their incentive not to get in a boat and try their luck?

To its credit, the EU has not yet deployed the ultimate argument: that refugees are already safe in Turkey, a country that is still technically a democracy, and therefore have no right to go asylum-shopping in greener pastures elsewhere. But after this new deal collapses, it will almost certainly come to that in the end.

— Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.