Hundreds of thousands of migrants could be deported from the EU in the coming weeks, according to a report by the Times (of London), which claims to have received a leaked document outlining the deportation scheme. Those traveling to Europe solely for economic reasons that have been denied asylum are the targets of the plan. The EU will reportedly threaten economic sanctions against the migrants’ home nations that refuse to take their citizens back. In addition, the plan is said to include provisions for the confinement of those migrants who have been denied asylum to prevent them from avoiding deportation. Up to 60 percent of those marked for deportation currently succeed in absconding from authorities before they can be sent back.
Meanwhile, after two days of meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the European Commission has released a vague provisional plan for addressing the migrant crisis in cooperation with Ankara. The plan would direct money—€1 billion, plus access to additional funds totaling as much as €250 million—to help Turkey build infrastructure for managing the migrant flow. The plan also dangles the prospect of hastening visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in Europe. Turkey, for its part, claims it has spent around €8 billion so far, and the €1 billion offer is therefore nowhere close to sufficient. Ankara also has broader geopolitical demands, including the establishment of a “safe zone” inside Syria’s borders and, at the most ambitious, the toppling of Assad (which Russian involvement has now rendered less likely.) And, in any case, little substantive progress on the plan is expected before Turkey’s elections in November of this year.
Think of these two stories as the opening proffers in an important, complex geopolitical negotiation that’s going to take place over the next few months and on into the new year. Europe wants its immigration crisis to end, and to do that it needs the cooperation of a series of “safe” countries. These come in two forms. The first form is places like Turkey, which are not themselves war zones, but are near war zones and are often the first steps on the journey refugees have been taking to Europe. The second form is countries (usually in Africa) that have been producing economic refugees. The latter are not themselves failed states, and Brussels needs their cooperation on deportations and resettlement.
It’s no secret that the EU has made a hash of its immigration policies so far, just as it has flubbed so many crises in the last decade. But Europe still has an immense advantage: money. Consider all of the trouble that Russia has been causing in Syria lately—and then consider that Russia’s GDP is equivalent to Italy’s, which is just one part of the EU, and a part that Brussels and Berlin consider relatively poor and mismanaged.
If the Europeans want their problems to go away badly enough, they can probably pay to make them disappear. If the EU wants to keep the Syrian refugee situation contained in Syria’s wider neighborhood—or help stem economic migration from Africa—it has the means to do so. The EU could pay to resettle refugees closer to Syria, to get “gateway” nations to stop the flow of refugees from hitting European shores (or greatly attenuate that flow), to deport and resettle illegal economic migrants, to buy the cooperation of the non-European countries that would need to be involved in the process, and then to absorb the remaining refugees still in Europe.
Or so the hope goes. But the other countries involved know this too—and they know the political pressure in Europe to fix the crisis is growing. Nations from Turkey to The Gambia will probably demand a high price for their cooperation. And it will take clarity and political will on Europe’s part, as well as the money, to make this work—and those are things that have been on short supply in the EU for a while now. We should never underestimate the ability of Eurocrats to make a hash of things.
But these negotiations are important. As Ross Douthat has pointed out, Europe is under immense, long-term, demographic pressure from its neighbors, particularly from Africa. Whether it manages to sort out a functioning immigration and border enforcement system will go a long way to determining whether this year is seen as a one-off, war-driven refugee crisis or the start of a long-term flow of immigration, undertaken without legal sanction or popular approval, that the Continent is not culturally, politically, or economically prepared for. Making this crisis a one-off will require the cooperation of partner countries, so keep an eye on stories like these two as negotiations unfold.