An explosive new report in Der Spiegel lays bare systemic problems and abuses that could rip the EU-Turkey refugee deal to shreds. It’s worth reading in full for anyone who wants to understand the European immigration crisis, but three points stand out as vital.
Firstly, Greek judges and bureaucrats are gumming up the works on repatriation:
Brussels expected that Greece would use expedited procedures to send migrants back to Turkey within a few days. But nothing is happening quickly at the moment, primarily because Greek asylum officials and judges are having qualms about recognizing Turkey as a “safe third country,” as demanded by Brussels. They apparently share the concerns of human rights activists and legal experts, who have repeatedly pointed to the precarious living conditions among migrants in Turkey. […]
The EU has sent 390 migrants from Greece back to Turkey since early April, far fewer than planned. About 8,000 migrants, a third of them Syrians, remain in the Aegean islands. The European Commission now believes that Greek appellate judges may stop one in three deportations of Syrians. “This strikes at the core of the deal,” said a senior Brussels official.
Yes, Turkey is—as we’ve said and Brussels has refused to see—an imperfect partner, to put it diplomatically. But for this program to work at all at stopping mass migration, the Europeans have to repatriate in mass. Continued delays in repatriations could gut the deal’s deterrence value, leading to more crossings, more drownings, more overcrowding in the Greek camps, and more social and political unrest in Greece and Europe writ large.
Meanwhile, across the Aegean, the Turkish government may be abusing the deal’s so-called “1:1 mechanism.” The deal provides for the EU states, primarily Germany, to accept one refugee for every refugee repatriated to Turkey from Greece, up to 72,000. (Given the influx of more than a million refugees into Germany last year, this was on its face a good deal for all concerned.) But there’s a catch. The Turkish Ministry of the Interior, rather than the UN High Commission for Refugees (the more typical choice for such international agreements), gets to choose who to send. We’re shocked—shocked!—to hear the Erdogan government may be exploiting this provision for its own ends:
The EU countries had actually agreed with Turkey that the selection process should be balanced. Traumatized and sick migrants were to be allowed to travel, but also others, including those with family members already living in Europe.
But now, several European governments have been noticing a large number of hardship cases among the candidates for resettlement. In an internal EU meeting in Brussels at the end of April, the Luxembourg representative found fault with the candidate lists proposed by Turkey, saying that they are not balanced, “but instead contain either serious medical cases or refugees with very little education.” Ole Schröder, the parliamentary secretary of state at the German Interior Ministry, recently reported similar concerns in a closed-door meeting of German parliament’s Committee on Internal Affairs.
Several times in recent weeks, Turkish authorities suddenly withdrew previously issued exit permits at the last minute. Oddly enough, they were usually for families with fathers who were well-trained engineers, doctors or skilled workers. Officials from Berlin to The Hague to Luxembourg are familiar with such cases. Turkey has now officially informed the UNHCR that Syrian academics and their families are no longer permitted to leave the country by way of the 1:1 mechanism.
The European great and good were always delusional in their hopes that they would be getting a flood of displaced doctors and engineers. Now, they’re getting the short end of a stick that was already pretty short to begin with. The Germans might want to revise upward their estimated €93 billion price tag for the refugee problem by 2020.
If the deal does fall apart, it will probably have less to do with human rights abuses and more to do with these dirty tricks (and the failure of the Greeks to deal with the raw numbers). But the Spiegel report does give plenty of cause for concern about Turkish treatment of the refugees:
Nour was trying to reach London to join her husband. She is pregnant, and yet she is not permitted to leave the Düziçi camp to see a doctor or meet with an attorney. “I don’t know what will happen next or when I will finally be released,” she says.
A woman from Aleppo who was deported from Lesbos to Düziçi with her four children complains that the cells are overcrowded and the food is full of insects. Her son is having respiratory problems, she says. A fellow detainee tried to commit suicide with a shard of glass. “Düziçi is hell,” she says in a broken voice. The Turkish authorities claim that the Syrians are released once security checks are complete.
Human rights organizations have warned that the rights of migrants returning from Greece to Turkey are not guaranteed. The Pakistanis, Afghans and Algerians who were deported from the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios in early April were almost all sent to a deportation center in Kirklareli on the Turkish-Bulgarian border.
The center is off-limits to journalists, aid organizations and attorneys. Cornelia Ernst, a member of the European Parliament from Germany’s Left Party, visited the facility in early May and said that conditions there were “shocking” and that detainees are often only permitted to leave their cells for a few minutes every day. According to Mülteci-Der, migrants at the camp are systematically hampered in their efforts to gain access to asylum procedures.
This must all be weighed against the prospect of further mass drownings in the Aegean, which the deal is designed in part to prevent. Nevertheless, it’s still stomach-churning treatment meted out to victims of war and circumstance, not criminals.
The whole deal is, at this point, an omnishambles. When it was signed, we called it the confluence of two systems in crisis: one the one hand, an EU that was willing to pay any price to or swallow any insult from Recep Tayyip Erdogan; and on the other hand, a Turkish political system that was spiraling down further and further into autocracy. Since then, Turkey has continued its descent, and the EU still hasn’t come up with a coherent foreign policy response or a back-up plan for border security. Turkey remains the only option.
There are now strong incentives for both sides to remain on the current path: Erdogan wants the money, while Europe’s leaders want desperately to think they’ve solved the Continent’s thorniest problem. But if the problems raised by this report aren’t fixed, then sooner or later the breakdowns will become undeniable. (Given the recent bad news out of Turkey, “sooner” seems like the better bet.) Something that can’t go on forever, won’t.