Turkey, European Union and the Refugees

March 8, 2016

The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines the refugee as someone who is unable or unwilling to return to his/her country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. The Convention stipulates that its provisions are to be applied without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin. Developments in international human rights law have reinforced the principle that the Convention be applied without discrimination. The Convention also lays down basic minimum standards for the treatment of refugees, “without prejudice to States granting more favorable treatment”. Such rights include access to the courts, to primary education, to work.

Syrian conflict has created huge refugee problems for neighboring Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. This is what the European Commission says in its “ECHOFACT SHEET” on the refugee situation in Turkey:
• “The overwhelming influx of refugees into Turkey has reached over 3.1 million registered, making Turkey the largest host of refugees in the world.
• “In 2016 some 126 166 people have arrived through Turkey to Greece by sea. 91% come from the world’s top 10 refugee-producing countries.
• “About 90% of Syrian refugees in Turkey remain outside of camp settings with limited access to basic services.
• “UNHCR estimates that more than half of the Syrian refugees are children, with 400 000 children remaining out of school…” (*)

EU’s 28 member states have a total population of 508 million. EU’s GDP is over 18.5 trillion US dollars. GDP per capita stands around 36,000 US dollars.

Turkey’s population is 76 million (2014). Her GDP is close to 800 billion US dollars (2014). GDP per capita is 10,830 US dollars (2014).

On March 4, 2016 the BBC reported that the EU had 1,321, 560 asylum claims in 2015. Although Germany had the most asylum applications in 2015, Hungary had the highest in proportion to its population, despite having closed its border with Croatia in an attempt to stop the flow in October. Nearly 1,800 refugees per 100,000 of Hungary’s local population claimed asylum in 2015. Sweden followed close behind with 1,667 per 100,000. The figure for Germany was 587 and for the UK it was 60 applications for every 100,000 residents. The EU average was 260.

Since the number of registered refugees in Turkey, according to the EU, stands at 3.1 million, Turkey is currently hosting close to 4,000 refugees per 100,000 of its population.

Yet, in an appeal to refugees, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said: “Do not come to Europe. Do not believe the smugglers. Do not risk your lives and your money. It is all for nothing.”

Both the EU and Turkey misread the Arab spring. Not Germany, but a few other EU heavyweights led the misguided intervention in Libya (**). Their joint efforts with Turkey targeting regime change in Syria fanned the flames. Thus, they contributed to the creation of an unprecedented refugee problem. In the meantime, many EU countries remained silent observers. It was only when hundreds of thousands of refugees started to cross their borders that they raised their voices leading to a major internal crisis placing the heaviest burden on Greece. Nonetheless, the 1951 Convention is not about assigning blame for failed policies. It is about the individual trying to escape persecution. So, a solution has to be found and it has to be fair.

In February, EU leaders approved 3 billion Euros in funding for Turkey to help it cope with record numbers of Syrian migrants it is already hosting. The government wants more because this is not a short-term problem. It also wants to revitalize Turkey’s EU accession process and visa liberalization. The relaunching of the accession process with genuine good will is not in the cards. Visa-free travel to EU countries could have been granted years ago but Brussels has resisted it for no good reason. If secured, it will be presented to Turkish public as the greatest diplomatic victory over the West since Treaty of Lausanne and used as a sweetener for the “refugee deal”. It appears that at yesterday’s summit in Brussels, the EU and Turkey reached agreement on the broad principles of a plan to ease the migration crisis. However, hard bargaining will continue for another week on details before the agreement is formally adopted. By all indications, both the EU and Turkey are eager to find a way out; the former to stop the influx of refugees and the latter to somehow make up for its mistakes related to the Syrian conflict.

European Council President Donald Tusk recently said that it is up to Turkey to decide how to reduce the flow to Europe, but that it could be time to turn back migrant boats trying to reach Greece. Indeed, it may be time not only for Turkey to put an end to loss of life in the waters of the Aegean but also for the EU to receive its fair share of refugees, sooner than later. This is an international legal and moral obligation for the EU and a reasonable price to pay for the moral high ground it has always claimed on every issue. Brussels should stop trying to bribe Turkey and Greece into agreeing to become Europe’s refugee camp.


(**) “From Arab Spring to Europe’s Autumn of Refugees”, September 3, 2015

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