Refugee deal turns Turkey into giant ‘hotel’, critics say
Istanbul - The tentative deal reached by the European Union and Ankara to stem the flow of migrants to Europe is turning Turkey into a giant “hotel” and will not solve the problem but also ignores a serious clampdown on basic rights in the country, experts and the opposition in Turkey say.
EU leaders and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on March 7th agreed on a plan outline, which is to be finalised on March 17th, in which Turkey would take back all migrants who travel to Greece via Turkish territory and Europe would agree to take in Syrian refugees from Turkey directly.
For every Syrian who returns to Turkey, the European Union would accept one Syrian legally, with the goal of ending illegal migration into Europe.
The agreement includes increased financial aid for Turkey on top of the $3.3 billion already pledged, more intensive talks about Turkey’s EU membership bid and the end of visa requirements for Turks visiting the European Schengen area by June.
While leaders spoke of a possible breakthrough to solve the refugee crisis, which saw 1 million migrants reach Europe in 2015, observers in Turkey were sceptical.
“The EU may succeed in sending 70,000 people back to Turkey but, down the road, it will receive another 700,000,” said Eren Erdem, a senior member of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the biggest opposition force in Turkey’s parliament.
He said the root of the problem, instability and chaos in the Middle East, was not addressed. “You haven’t seen refugees from Jordan or Yemen but you might,” he added, referring to Europe.
Instead of tackling core issues, the EU was trying to put the burden on Turkey, Erdem said. “They are turning Turkey into a hotel state,” he said.
Murat Erdogan, a migration expert at Ankara’s Hacettepe University, said the deal hammered out was “unrealistic”. Pointing to a part of the agreement that says all refugees, including non-Syrians, would be returned to Turkey, he said those migrants would wait years before being accepted in a third country. “So they will all stay in Turkey,” he said.
Erdogan also voiced scepticism regarding Turkey’s pledge to send refugees to their home countries. The European Union could return people to their countries directly if it was so easy, Erdogan said, adding: “If the EU can’t do it, Turkey won’t be able to do it.”
Ahmet Icduygu of Istanbul’s Koc University, another migration specialist, told the BirGun newspaper that Europe was in a “serious panic” because of the refugees and that trying to end the sea route from Turkey to Greece by returning migrants to Turkey would not work.
Icduygu compared the situation in Syria to that in Afghanistan, a country that has sent hundreds of thousands of refugees to neighbouring countries over past decades.
Iverna McGowan, head of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, accused EU and Turkish leaders of “horse trading away the rights and dignity of some of the world’s most vulnerable people”.
Critics attacked what they see as an EU decision to ignore growing repressive tendencies by Ankara to get Turkey to cooperate in the migrant crisis.
Three days before the EU-Turkey meeting, Turkish authorities seized Zaman, the country’s biggest newspaper, which had been critical of the government. Under its new, state-imposed management, the daily has turned into a pro-government outlet.
As European leaders were negotiating with Davutoglu in Brussels, a court in Istanbul ordered the takeover of the private Cihan news agency.
Both Zaman and Cihan have been close to the movement of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher who once supported Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but fell out with him in 2013. Erdogan says Gulen is plotting to overthrow the elected government, a charge the Gulen movement denies.
Yalcin Dogan, a columnist writing for the T24 online news platform, accused Europe of ignoring the clampdown on critics in Turkey. “As long as the refugees stay with you, you can do whatever you want domestically,” Dogan wrote, describing the European Union’s approach, adding that Europe should be ashamed.
Turkey’s hope to lift Schengen visa requirements for its citizens by June might also be mistaken, said Cengiz Aktar, a political scientist specialising in European affairs.
Turkey had to fulfil 72 conditions, including production of new passports, Aktar said according to the Haberdar online news platform. He predicted new delays, saying: “As it is impossible to fulfil these conditions in such a short time period, come June the EU will find ways to postpone [visa] liberalisation.”