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European migrant deal may be starting to fall apart

A rubber boat carrying around 50 migrants and refugees arrives from Bodrum in Turkey to the Greek island of Kos in the early hours of the morning. (Credit: Christopher Jahn/IFRC/flickr)

The deal between the European Union and Turkey that has helped to slow down the flow of migrants and refugees into Europe may be slowly unraveling. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday that the country could walk away from the deal if its citizens are not granted visa-free travel throughout Europe in October. It echoes what President Tayyip Erdogan said to the French newspaper Le Monde a week earlier.

“The European Union is not behaving in a sincere manner with Turkey,” he said. “If our demands are not satisfied then the re-admissions will no longer be possible.”

The promise of visa-free travel was one of the stipulations made when the deal between the European Union and Turkey was finalized in March. It was supposed to go into effect at the start of June but was delayed because of concerns over Turkish anti-terrorism legislation. The unsuccessful military coup in July and the ensuing crackdown led by Erdogan brought the process to a virtual standstill.

It is likely that the October deadline will pass without a change in visa access for Turks in Europe. European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in July that it is unlikely Turkey will get what they want by the end of the year. The Turkish government’s response to the coup – tens of thousands of people were arrested and opposition newspapers were shut down – was his main concerns. In particular, he took issue with calls to reinstate the death penalty.

“The death penalty is irreconcilable with our order of values and our treaties. No country can become a member state of the EU if it introduces the death penalty,” Oettinger said, in an interview with several regional German newspapers at the time.

Turkey for its part feels slighted. Officials said that Turkey has kept up its end of the deal by taking in migrants who illegally arrive in Greece. In return, the country received financial aid and was promised an accelerated process for joining the European Union. The government argued that delays are evidence that European leaders are not holding up their end of the deal.

“It can’t be that we implement everything that is good for the EU but that Turkey gets nothing in return,” said Cavusoglu.

The number of people arriving in Greece has increased since the failed Turkish coup. More than 1,000 people arrived by boat in the two weeks after the coup. The more than 10,000 people currently in the northeast Aegean islands is the most ever and far exceeds the housing capacity for registration centers in Greece. Pressure also remains on Italy, where more than 100,000 migrants have arrived by sea so far this year, and the inability for people to move beyond the country is creating a massive backup.

The European Union and individual countries are trying to find a way forward with Turkey that does not lead to the dissolution of the deal, which provides a relief valve for the pressure of migrant arrivals and will disappear entirely if Turkey backs out.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]