Migrant Deal with Turkey Still Looks Unworkable

Swapping refugees will be no simple feat, but what else can the European Union try to do?

German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, March 17
German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, March 17 (Bundesregierung/Guido Bergmann)

European Union countries reached an agreement with Turkey on Friday that they hope will stem the flow of migrants to the continent. But serious doubts about the plan’s workability remain.

Under the deal, migrants reaching the Greek islands from Turkey should be returned. For every Syrian national who is returned to Turkey, the EU would resettle one from refugee camps in Turkey. But the bloc will only take 72,000 at most when millions of Syrians have fled the violence in their country.

When Germany and Turkey tentatively agreed much the same scheme in early March, this website argued that it was likely to disappoint. Our doubts are still the same.

Some 2,000 people land on Greek beaches every day. Officials struggle to fingerprint and register every arrival as it is. Many of them are impatient to travel on to the richer nations of Northern and Western Europe. Forcing people back could get ugly.

Legal experts are also squeamish about the proposal to swap migrants. International asylum regulations clearly stipulate that all applications must be properly considered. A return policy might be illegal.

Steep price

Turkey nevertheless got a lot in return: €6 billion in EU funding, visa liberalization for citizens traveling into the Schengen Area (although lifting visa requirements altogether will still need approval from the European Parliament and ministers) and a pledge to “reenergize” membership talks.

For Europe, it’s a steep price to pay for a deal that might not even pan out.

It’s also unclear what else the EU could do.

Record numbers of migrants have entered Europe in the last year. Countries like Germany have been bearing the brunt, processing more than one million asylum applications in 2015. No country can sustain such numbers.

Border states in the south, particularly Greece and Italy, have been only too willing to wave migrants through while member states in Central Europe, including Hungary and Poland, have resisted German-led efforts to spread asylum seekers proportionately across the 28-nation bloc.

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