The European Union and Turkey reached a deal on Nov. 29 designed to help stem the number of refugees entering Europe. The European Union will provide Turkey with $3 billion in aid, while taking steps toward lifting visa requirements for Turkish citizens and opening new chapters in Turkey’s accession talks with the EU. Turkey will in return cooperate with the EU on preventing travel to Europe of migrants deemed not in need of international protection in their country of origin, while improving conditions for Syrian refugees in Turkey. The plan was created to bring “order” to migratory flows but fails to address some of the key underlying factors driving this migration.
For Turkey, the agreement brings much-needed financial assistance to help with expenditures related to refugees, while signaling to Russia that the country is strengthening its cooperation with the EU. However, while today’s agreement may reduce somewhat the number of refugees crossing from Turkey into the European Union in the short term, it will do little to address Europe’s refugee crisis in the long term. The elephant in the room, ignored in the official agreement, is the status of the Syrian-Turkish border. As long as fighting rages in Syria, refugees will keep seeking safety and better lives in Europe. The Turkish government cannot formally deny entry to Syrian refugees, since their country of origin is not deemed safe. Despite reports of Turkish border guards attempting to prevent some Syrian refugees from entering the country, much of the border remains open and human traffickers continue to smuggle refugees across. Moreover, on Nov. 27, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration had pressed Turkey to deploy additional troops to seal its border with Syria, warning that members of the Islamic State are using the area to move militants in and out of Syria.
As the refugee crisis intensified and divisions within the European Union grew, the bloc’s core principle of free movement was in danger of being undermined and some countries, Germany in particular, sought indirect ways of stemming the flow of refugees. The deal with Turkey is a part of this strategy. However, the flow of refugees ultimately hinges on the situation on the ground in Syria. Some Syrian refugees have sought to reach Europe by travelling to Libya via Egypt and crossing the Mediterranean. Should Turkey make its border more difficult to cross, more Syrians may opt to take this longer route. During their negotiations, the Europeans and the Turks did not take into account the aspirations of the refugees themselves. There are already tensions within Turkey between refugees and locals. Furthermore, refugees prevented from moving into the European Union have been clashing with police in countries like Macedonia, frustrated that their long journeys may have ended prematurely. The agreement between the European Union and Turkey does not address the root of the crisis, fails to recognize the realities of the Turkish-Syrian border, and will fall short of achieving its goal of stemming the tide of refugees heading toward Europe in the long term.