Refugee crisis: How will EU and Turkey cooperate?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Turkey key to solving Europe’s refugee crisis. What would you say could be a key to successful and effective EU-Turkey cooperation re refugee crisis, is this kind of cooperation possible? Read few comments.

Kerem Öktem, Professor of Southeast Europe and Modern Turkey, Centre of Southeast European Studies, University of Graz

The Chancellor has every reason to acknowledge Turkey’s key role in the refugee crisis. Turkey is hosting the largest group of Syrian refugees anywhere int he world. There are more than 2 million and the number is going to rise. It goes without saying that this massive number is causing grave challenges for the public services and tensions with local populations. Turkey is and always will be a main gateway for the flow of goods and people between East and West. Just look at the map… as long as Turkey does not completely isolates itself from all its eastern neighbours, and nobody would want such a policy if isolation, refugees will come to Turkey and some of them will continue to Europe. Any hopes that Europe could keep all of these refugees in Turkey are unfounded. In fact, wanting to keep them away -and risk Turkey’s destabilisation- is not only racist. It is also not in Europe’s interest. The refugee crisis comes as a salient reminder that the European Union cannot be a safe place without Turkey. It needs Turkey to absorb some of the migrants and it needs to support Turkey so that refugees can have a decent life there. The current deal between Ankara and the EU is partly aimed at that goal. The only downside is that Turkey is now in the midst of the deepest political crisis since the foundation of the Republic in 1923. The ad-hoc arrangement with an increasingly authoritarian but constitutionally restricted President and an incompetent and disempowered Prime Minister has made the government dysfunctional. Unfortunately, the Turkey-EU refugee deal comes at the worst possible moment. It is therefore unlikely to help Turkey back on track to its EU accession process. But this remains the only major carrot with which the European Union can ensure that future Turkish governments will do their part of the deal and fulfil their responsibilities for a judicial and humanist management of the refugee crisis and for the future of an inclusive and prospering Europe.

Nigar GökselSenior Analyst, Turkey/Caucasus, International Crisis Group

Turkey is grappling with a growing numbers of Syrian refugees, currently at 2.2 million, and expects a new wave of refugees as a result of the Russian intervention in Syria.Dangers of the sea route between Turkey and the EU are increasing as winter nears.

More support from the international community before the winter months is vital to provide support to refugees in camps (around 270.000) and in the cities (around 1,9 million). Turkish officials expect more than half of the current refugees to stay in Turkey in the long run. Accordingly, the EU and Turkey should invest more in integration programs and ease the process of obtaining long-term work permits.

Turkey’s commitment to effectively implement its existing readmission agreement with Greece can help deter dangerous sea crossings. But this entails a significant effort and cost. For Turkey to do this, Ankara must be assured that  the EU has something to offer. For the EU to offer visa facilitation or the transfer of pre-accession funds that were already committed to Turkey to be used for refugees is not serious.       The visa liberalization prospect for Turkish nationals to travel to the EU is an incentive for Turkey to strengthen its border management, and can more generally contribute creating a positive momentum in Turkey-EU relations. Turkey needs to know that if and when it fulfills the required benchmarks for visa liberalization, European leaders will come through with the political will to enable Turkish nationals to travel to the EU visa-free.

In addition, EU member states need to commit to the  resettlement of a higher number of refugees who are currently registered in Turkey, so that safe and orderly transport for the more vulnerable asylum seekers can be ensured

Michael Wuthrich, Visiting Assistant Professor, Academic Director of the GIST BA & MA Programs, Center for Global & International Studies, University of Kansas

Any successful and effective solution to the refugee crisis would be cooperation regarding a successful and effective solution to the collapsed states of Syria and Iraq. Refugees need to be taken care of and protected in the short term, but this is a very expensive band-aid for a symptom of a much bigger issue. Turkey has already been saddled with around 2,000,000 Syrian refugees, and they have had to deal with the consequences of the realities in Syria since 2011. It is no surprise that they have been one of the biggest proponents for a solution for the government situation in Damascus rather than just dealing with the Islamic State and refugees, which are symptoms of the first issue. The Islamic State is not holding territory in the most “Islamist-friendly” places; if that were the case, we would see them in other countries. They have a manifest presence only in the countries were the state is failing to provide goods, services, and order to its people–hence, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen.

Chancellor Merkel’s targeting of Turkey as the key to the refugee situation, of course, seems to be superficial or wishful-thinking more than really identifying a “key” solution. How is Turkey to “cooperatively” respond? Do they just simply turn away fellow humans who are fleeing to save their very lives and the lives of their families and children? Who wants to be the country at the border of that situation? Does Turkey simply keep all the people fleeing and provide for them within their borders while Europe is a spectator? Or does cooperation mean an awkward relationship in which the EU sends Turkey large sums of money to compensate for all the refugees that they have to deal with in exchange for keeping the refugees away from European nations? None of these scenarios deal with the problem. Cooperation to deal with the side effects of a refugee crisis is a costly endeavor that could potentially prolong the human and financial toll that state failure in Syria is causing to itself and all its neighbors.

Dimitris TsarouhasAssistant Professor, Department of International Relations, Bilkent University

Ms. Merkel is right that Turkey is key. It has been shouldering a heavy burden for a long time and with few means. Even at this late stage, European solidarity is a must and sends an important message. Practically, this should involve financial assistance and know-how exchange on offering relief to refugees. The visa facilitation process should have been driven forward earlier, and for unrelated reasons to the crisis, starting with highly skilled individuals, professionals and businessmen. When it comes to accession talks, it is important that Turkey takes a seat on the table as an EU candidate country again; but no exemptions should be made to the acquis and its political criteria for the sake of better cooperation on the refugee crisis. If the Union is a Community of values, it is important to encourage reform and not reward back-sliding.

Toni Alaranta, Senior Research Fellow, Finnish Institute of International Affairs

First of all, the diplomatic efforts and high-level meetings between EU leaders and President Erdogan at this point, when Turkish repeated parliamentary elections are just around corner, on 1 November, is a golden opportunity for Erdogan and his AK party – Erdogan is able to present himself as an influential world-leader that everyone comes to meet. Second, the EU is in a weak bargaining position, demonstrated by the fact that the annual Commission report on Turkey has been delayed – it consists a lot of criticism that the EU leaders now want to pull off from the table in order not to annoy Turkey. This is a bad policy in longer run, especially if this helps the AK party in the coming elections. Otherwise, I guess there is chance for cooperation by providing money and by providing visa liberalization for Turkish citizens. This is bargaining process where the EU is the weaker part. The AKP regime is a deeply anti-western political movement and has no connection to the European vocation that animates the traditional republican project in Turkey. Making promises about strengthening Turkish EU road in order to secure its cooperation in the refugee crisis is a mistake in the long run. Cooperation is now necessary but one should be careful not to boost Erdogan in the elections.

Brent SasleyAssistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Texas at Arlington

Turkey certainly is an important player in the refugee crisis, because of its proximity to the fighting in Syria, its role (at least at the beginning) in facilitating fighters into Syria, and its hosting of a considerable number of refugees. In terms of how the EU and Turkey could cooperate, some European aid to Turkey to help it cope would be useful. More coordination in search and rescue operations in the sea is needed. And policy coordination regarding the war itself would go some way to creating more appropriate conditions for dealing with the refugee crisis. Turkey has long insisted on specific responses to the war that differed from its allies’ preferences and priorities. Turkey will have to adjust to the latter.

David RomanoAssociate Professor, Missouri State University

Well, Turkey’s perspective is that the source (or “push factor”) of the refugee crisis needs to be tackled — meaning Assad must be overthrown. Germany and other Western countries are no longer on board with such a perspective since the rise of ISIS. Germany would like to provide financial aid to Turkey and have Turkey reciprocate by doing more to keep the refugees in its territory from moving on to Europe. But with more than a million Syrian refugees in Turkey, it’s not clear how many more Turkey can be expected to take in. People will keep coming however as long as the civil war rages in Syria. Unfortunately, I’m not sure anyone knows what to do in the meantime.

Özgür Ünlühisarcikli, Ankara Office Director, German Marshall Fund of the United States

I think Turkey and the EU should work together to develop incentives for the refugees to stay in Turkey, rather than forcefully preventing them from leaving Turkey. Proper education, working permits and investment opportunities are the main areas they could work on together.



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