The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has been tracking refugee flows into Europe on a weekly basis, reported that while numbers were down from those measured in November and early December, at more than 3,000 a day this week, they were still overwhelming EU and Greek authorities. Reuters reports that, in the wake of these numbers, the EU is looking for Turkey to do more to reduce the flows. European leaders believed that, under the terms of the deal the EU signed with Turkey in November, Ankara was supposed to have helped stem the flow of refugees in exchange for a pledged €3 billion in aid. However, as we noted at the time:
Unfortunately, however, the chances are high that the agreement will not succeed in stopping the flow. Turkey has never been entirely in control of its southern border, where Kurdish militants have been active for many years. If the U.S. cannot control the Rio Grande, Turkey will have even greater difficulty with the wild and unsettled border it shares with Syria and Iraq.
Now, the Reuters report seems to show that, indeed, the deal has not so far worked as envisioned:
Frans Timmermans, the deputy head of the executive European Commission, told a news conference on Thursday that data showed arrivals in Greece in recent weeks had shown little change since the EU pledged cash and other concessions to Turkey on Nov. 29 in return for Turkish help in curbing irregular immigration.“Over the last couple of weeks, the figures have remained relatively high, so there is still a lot of work to do there,” Timmermans said in Amsterdam, noting that he would travel to Turkey for talks on Monday to address a crisis that has divided EU governments and bolstered anti-EU nationalists […]“We have seen the first results which are encouraging but we are a long way from being satisfied.”
When Timmermans gets to Ankara, he’s likely to find that the Turks have a different understanding of the deal: The €3 billion was meant to help Ankara handle the refugees they already have, officials have said. Meanwhile, with the agreement, the Europeans gave a major boost in legitimacy to President Erdogan during a year in which the Turkish ruler had become more and more openly authoritarian. Again, from our November comments:
[T]he contrast between the arrogance the EU displays when it feels strong—labeling settlement-made Israeli goods, barring desperately poor farmers in Africa from using GMO crops to enhance their productivity and profits, imposing human rights sanctions on countries too small or too far away to retaliate—and the sweeping concessions it makes when it’s reeling, is highly instructive. The deal makes a mockery of European values, it will divide Europe further, and it rewards Erdogan’s bad behavior. Because Europe has no real policy on Syrian refugees and no means of developing one in anything like a timely fashion, it was reduced to paying virtually any price Turkey chose to name.
The EU is now finding out that, having done a deal with the devil, it hasn’t gotten what it asked for. To make matters worse, Brussels already promised results to an increasingly restive European populace. Whatever Europe does next (Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is advocating bringing Bulgaria into the Schengen Zone and then creating a unified land border, with extra fences), it had better make sure it works—or that it at least levels with its people about the realistic chances for success. Happy talk may keep things calm for a news cycle or two, but a pile of broken promises of progress on immigration are taking a long-term toll on the Continent’s political climate.