The Mediterranean migration crisis has convulsed countries on three continents. While the impact has hit hardest in war-torn Mideast and North African nations, the ripple effect from thousands of dangerous, even deadly, sea crossings has destabilized European nations and the European Union itself. So it’s not surprising, but rather understandable, that E.U. members — facing an unrelenting, unmanageable crisis and the resulting political backlash — would work to stem the waves of migrants.
Unfortunately, however, the E.U.-Turkey deal — which several human rights groups deem immoral, if not illegal, based on the European Convention on Human Rights and a 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention — seems to prioritize Europe’s political needs above migrants’ human needs.
From now on, migrants clandestinely crossing from Turkey to Greece will be returned after Greek authorities process those seeking asylum. For every Syrian returned to Turkey, the E.U. has pledged to resettle a Syrian refugee, giving priority to those who have not tried to enter the E.U. Most economic migrants, even from failed states, would be repatriated. Further, Turkey has agreed to crack down on human trafficking.
In exchange, the E.U. will send Turkey about $6.7 billion to manage migrants, will waive most visa requirements for Turks to travel within the E.U., and will give greater consideration to Turkey’s stalled application to join the union (a move vehemently opposed by Cyprus).
Should Turkey join the 28-member bloc, it would come in amid rising oppression against political opponents, independent media and others by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. “Clearly the authoritarian image of Turkey that was more common in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s has returned,” Ross Wilson, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, told an editorial writer. “That is a burden on the U.S. government’s ability to deal effectively with Turkey, and it’s a burden for the European Union.”
The deal comes at a time when authoritarian political parties are gaining strength in Europe in response to citizens’ concern over their leaders’ handling of the immigration crisis. That strengthened Erdogan’s hand, Aaron Stein, resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told an editorial writer. “They used this to advance their own interests and aims, which are tied to domestic politics. So refugees became almost bargaining chips.”
Which of course they’re not — they are human beings driven from their homes because of a collective global failure to alleviate the conditions that forced them to flee. That should be the next focus of Turkey, the E.U. and other key countries: ending Syria’s civil war and pressuring other corrupt and ineffectual governments to reform.
But these solutions aren’t imminent. And so the deal will proceed despite concerns from human rights groups. It can be hoped that it will help rein in rapacious human traffickers, as well as stabilize support for leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel, whose responsible receptivity to those in need reflects values all Europeans should aspire to.
But realism is necessary, cautioned Stein. “Even if Syria is solved, you have large parts of the country that are completely destroyed, so these people have nothing to go home to,” he said, adding: “This deal is a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound that requires serious medical attention and not triage.”