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GTE Question of the Month, September 2015


As the refugee crisis spills from Turkey across the Balkans and into the EU, how should EU-Turkey cooperation feature in the debate on revising the EU's refugee and asylum policies?

Anna Triandafyllidou

Turkey is a key player in the field of migration and asylum management in the Mediterranean and beyond. The country has borne the brunt of the Syrian crisis, hosting nearly 2 million Syrians to this day. It has also long been both a buffer zone and a transit hub for prospective irregular migrants and asylum seekers crossing from Turkey to Greece and Bulgaria and moving on to northern European countries. Acknowledging the importance of Turkey in the management of population flows, the EU fought hard to sign a readmission agreement with Turkey and succeeded in doing so in 2013. The readmission agreement entered into force on 1 October 2014, and it is perhaps still too early to assess its effectiveness. It was, however, by all means key to visa liberalisation for Turkish nationals in the EU as well as a positive step forward in EU-Turkey cooperation, which has been stalled on many issues in the past few years, including migration and asylum management.

Arrivals of asylum seekers and migrants have risen dramatically during 2015, and over the last few weeks in particular we have been witnessing a change of direction in EU policy on asylum. The larger EU member states (Germany, France, Britain, Italy) and the European Commission itself have called Dublin into question and admitted that the Dublin system and the “first safe country” principle can no longer hold. They need to be radically revised. A first step in this direction is relocation quotas, mandatory or voluntary, and a fairer system of distribution of asylum seekers among the member states. A second step is insisting on a watertight distinction between asylum seekers (to be welcome and integrated) and irregular economic migrants (to be returned), and returning through summary procedures people applying for asylum who originate from the Balkans and Turkey. A third step is combatting the smuggling business.

Consultation and cooperation with Turkish authorities is crucial for combatting the smuggling business. It could also be important in the planning of Syrian refugees’ relocation. However, it remains more doubtful with regards to people fleeing Turkey itself and seeking international protection in the EU. The Erdogan regime is unfortunately becoming less and less democratic and transparent, and the Kurdish (or generally the minorities) question is being used again to appease public discontent and shift attention away from other pressing issues. Thus, considering Turkey a safe country generally remains a dubious decision.

(Anna Triandafyllidou is Director of the Global Governance Programme Research Strand on Cultural Pluralism at the European University Institut)

Juliette Tolay

The heartbreaking picture of Aylan Kurdi, whose body was washed ashore on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey on 2 September 2015, has become a symbol of many of the world’s ills, as well as a potentially powerful wake-up call. Aylan, however, also represents the painful gap between the EU on the one hand and Turkey and countries of origin on the other hand: it is the walls of “Fortress Europe” that defeated Aylan, both physically and symbolically.
Let’s be clear: the real solution to the refugee crisis faced by the EU is a political solution to the conflicts that rage in Syria and other places, and the real challenge faced by EU leaders is one of public opinion (wherein an electorate unfavorable to massive arrivals of foreigners, rather than limited capabilities, is the real issue).
Absent an easy fix to these two issues, the EU is looking for solutions to the refugee crisis through a restricted understanding of asylum policy. Current proposals from EU leaders center principally on relocation schemes from within the EU. But while this may help relieve member states that have been adversely affected by the Dublin regulations, it does not solve the issue of dangerous sea and land border crossings. Put simply, relocating more refugees from Greece and Hungary will not prevent drowning at sea.
Turkey has proven willing and capable of caring for a large number of Syrian refugees—whatever the political motives behind that welcoming policy may have been. But given Turkey’s own limited resources and the over two million refugees, as well as unstable domestic political developments, Turkey will not be able to continue alone. Therefore, strengthening Turkey’s capabilities and setting up resettlement schemes from Turkey (where Syrian refugees have been registered) may be the only mindful solution to ensure a safer asylum journey for refugees. While this is a win-win situation for Turkey and for the EU, it is an imperative for all the Aylan Kurdis in the world.

(Juliette Tolay is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Penn State Harrisburg)

Lisa Haferlach

While Turkey has arguably shown a humanitarian approach to the refugee crisis, large numbers of refugees are still choosing to move irregularly across Europe. With the war in Syria not likely to be resolved anytime soon, refugees are now leaving Turkey, which has provided them shelter but does not provide a refugee status due to the “geographical limitation” in its refugee policy, or give them the right to work. Turkey needs the support of Europe to lift its burden in a time in which social acceptance of refugees is crumbling and the population’s hospitality is overstretched. Europe, on the other hand, has lessened its grip on security but is still not serious about solidarity: neither within the EU in finding a fair solution to quotas, nor with other burdened countries in the region by investing in resettlement programs, nor finally with the refugees themselves, for whom legal channels need to be established at long last. Were Europe serious on this matter, there would be many very realistic ways to relieve Turkey of some of the burden. By taking a new stance on the readmission agreement and suspending more of the Dublin III clauses, Syrian refugees could be guaranteed a safe journey to the EU, where a temporary protection regime could be installed with the right to work, and medical needs and accommodation could be granted, until a political solution in Syria is found.

(Lisa Haferlach is Research Associate for the Dahrendorf Working Group ‘Europe and Turkey’ at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin)