Turkey in, refugees out: EU’s dirty deal

A few years ago, Libya’s late leader Muammar Gaddafi castigated Europe for supporting rebels fighting against him, and threatened to be unhelpful in curbing Europe-bound migration. That bargaining chip, migration, is now being offered to Turkey by the European Union (EU). German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey last week was part of an EU-led initiative to offer what some called a “dirty deal,” raising eyebrows across Europe.

Germany’s largest-selling newspaper Bild asked on its front page: “Who gains most from the chancellor’s Turkey trip: Merkel or [President Recep Tayyep] Erdoğan?” Other German dailies and opposition figures blasted Merkel for emboldening Erdoğan as his former party, the AKP, is set to run in elections in just two weeks.

Merkel offered to revive EU membership talks even though rights and freedoms in Turkey are getting worse.

Mahir Zeynalov

Amnesty International criticized her visit, and asked her to insist that Turkey clean up its act before treating it as a reliable partner in EU border management. “Talks between the EU and Turkey... risk putting the rights of refugees a distant second behind border control measures designed to prevent refugees from reaching the EU,” Amnesty said.

In Turkey, 100 academics penned a joint letter to Merkel, warning her that the visit would strengthen a man who has blatantly violated EU values.

EU incentives

The EU faces the biggest migration crisis since World War II, with hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants waiting at border crossings in Balkan countries, hoping to be able to proceed to more affluent Western Europe. Germany, which has promised to take in at least 800,000 this year, is feeling the strain at a time of rising anti-immigrant sentiment across the continent.

European leaders deliberately avoid using the term “refugees,” because international law forbids turning them back.

They are described as “migrants” seeking a better life in Europe, rather than desperately fleeing war or persecution.

One of the proposals Merkel set forth during her visit was to designate Turkey a “safe country” for refugees, a move that would allow the EU to deny asylum requests by refugees. Turkey is already feeling the burden of hosting more than 2 million, and complains of inadequate international aid.

The EU offered 3 billion euros for Turkey’s help in stemming the refugee tide, a deal resembling that between Europe and Gaddafi. Italy offered $5 billion to Libya to curb illegal immigration to Europe.

Turks themselves are unable to travel to Europe without a visa. It is the only country with membership negotiations that is not given a visa-free regime. Merkel promised to push EU leaders to start dialogue on the issue.

Ankara started EU membership talks a decade ago, but there was little if any progress. EU reluctance to accept Turkey is coupled with Ankara’s failure to meet EU criteria in reforms, governance and standards. Merkel offered to revive EU membership talks even though rights and freedoms in Turkey are getting worse.

Ankara is clearly more interested in breaking its international isolation and joining European leaders in photo-ops. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu asked Merkel for an opportunity to attend European summits. If accepted, the move would be a major PR boost for a ruling party that has lost most of its international friends in the past couple of years.

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Mahir Zeynalov is a journalist with Turkish English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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