Can the EU-Turkey refugee deal achieve its objectives?

There is no doubt that the agreement reached between the European Union (EU) and Turkey, to deal with the influx of Syrian refugees, has political dimensions. The deal is also inseparable from Ankara’s quest for a full-fledged membership of the EU and its troubled relationship with the 28-member union. In fact, such is the “unsaid” backdrop of the agreement that the two sides couldn’t mention or even drop a hint.

The two sides, especially the Europeans, have maintained that the deal’s sole objective is stopping refugees from making the dangerous journey across the Aegean Sea to Greece. This has become exceedingly important with around 1000 to 2000 people reaching the shores of economically-troubled Greece and then not being able to travel north as a result of border closures.

For the Europeans, the deal is part of the efforts to come to grips with the migration challenge, which is turning into a major humanitarian catastrophe. So from this point of view it is all about humanitarian efforts. Yet, at the heart of this endeavor, it could all be about controlling the flow of human population.

It may not be right to label the EU and Turkey as “human traffickers”, which they indeed are not, yet too much politics infused in it making this deal a lot less humanitarian. The deal is part of the joint action plan the EU and Turkey agreed on last year.

Ankara’s burden

It was also announced that the plan is aimed at alleviating Ankara’s burden. Under this plan, the EU had pledged €3 billion to help feed and shelter the almost three million Syrian refugees stranded in Turkey. In return, Turkey vowed to curb the smuggling of refugees to Europe through its shores and land routes.

The deal, which, in practice, aims to keep refugees outside Europe, is in a way the EU leaders’ acknowledgment of Ankara’s exploitation of the issue to press for more gains from the union

Raed Omari

As this money hasn’t yet been paid to Turkey, waves of refugees continue to arrive at Europe’s shores, which probably pushed the EU to sign the deal with Ankara. This is what raises the question whether this is about controlling the flow of refugees across borders without any real humanitarian concerns.

The deal, which, in practice, aims to keep refugees outside Europe, is in a way the EU leaders’ acknowledgment of Ankara’s exploitation of the issue to press for more gains from the union.

Smugglers’ boats

The Turks’ exploitation of the refugee crisis is not that difficult to pinpoint anyway. Having lived in Jordan and seeing how the movement of Syrian refugees is regulated (here I don’t mean crackdown), I wonder how thousands of Syrians move from the eastern side of Turkey to its west and from there to Greece via smugglers’ boats with the Turkish authorities either not doing anything or being completely unaware.

In sending refugees back to Turkey or refusing to accept more, the EU is not violating the international law. For them, these are not refugees fleeing war zones – as they have already done so after moving out of Syria. They view these people as fleeing the security and relative comfort of internationally supported refugee camps in Turkey. Yet, human rights groups believe, refugee crisis has been mishandled by Europeans even though they always present themselves as “defenders of human rights.”

Amnesty International recently accused the EU of escaping its responsibilities toward people fleeing warzone by relying on Turkey to monitor European borders. It said that it has recorded unlawful detentions and forced returns of refugees to Turkey and from there to Syria. “Using Turkey as a ‘safe third country’ is absurd,” said Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, Gauri van Gulik, adding, “Europe has an absolute duty to protect refugees.”

Moreover, if humanity and ending the misery of refugees is the basis of the EU-Turkey refugee deal, then how is it that hundreds and thousands of refugees are relocated from a secure continent such as Europe to a less rich and security-challenged Turkey. Although the number of refugees in the EU countries is relatively large but they can still be absorbed in the continent if the religious and cultural considerations are kept aside.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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