The agreement between Turkey and the EU that will facilitate visa liberalization for Turkish nationals and allow readmission of Syrian refugees who enter Europe illegally is practically shelved due to ongoing disagreements, according to sources from the Foreign Ministry. The Turkey-EU agreement that will pave the way for visa liberalization was initially signed on Dec. 16, 2013 and was later included in the comprehensive refugee deal by both parties. Although Brussels says the deal will succeed, it also requires Turkey to meet the EU's 72 benchmarks, which include narrowing its counterterrorism laws.
Turkey's Akşam daily reported over the weekend that a senior official from the Foreign Ministry said Turkey has used its administrative measures correctly to temporarily suspend the Readmission Agreement, which will return undocumented, illegal refugees who enter Europe via Turkey in exchange for registered migrants. Sources from the Foreign Ministry who spoke to Daily Sabah yesterday said: "In order for the Readmission Agreement to be successfully fulfilled, a Cabinet decision approving the bill published in the Official Gazette must be announced." Such an approval is not expected anytime soon. Although the European Commission had announced early last week that the Readmission Agreement would come into full force as of June 1, Ankara asserted that "the EU has failed to fulfill its duties resulting from the agreement," stressing that it suspended the Readmission Agreement as part of administrative measures.
While the sources neither denied nor confirmed the daily reports, Foreign Ministry sources also said that Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu will make a statement when necessary. According to the latest report in the daily, the EU took Ankara's decision to suspend the deal well.
During a press conference with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on May 24, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed the EU in saying that "If no decision is made on visa liberalization, then there will not be a decision issued by [Turkish] Parliament." The senior official from the Foreign Ministry said that EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Ömer Çelik and Çavuşoğlu conveyed Ankara's position and the current status of the deal to European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans on May 27 in Antalya.
Citing that Turkey has taken in nearly 3 million Syrian refugees, Erdoğan called on the EU and Germany. specifically, at the Turkey Exporters' Assembly (TİM) on Friday, saying: "Either the current items on the agenda are successfully fulfilled or Turkey will no longer be a barrier to Europe and leave you alone with your problems," adding that Turkey does not want to be discriminated against and urging the EU to take up a just stance according to its legal acquis.
During his visit to Brussels, Çelik emphasized Turkey's devotion and determination to continue the Turkey-EU Readmission Agreement, which includes accelerating Turkey's EU membership bid and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals in the Schengen zone if Turkey meets the 72 benchmarks. Çelik said it is impossible for visa liberalization talks to be excluded from the agreement, calling them inseparable.
Refusing to grant Turkish nationals visa-free travel without altering anti-terrorism laws, the EU is now at a crossroads. Erdoğan warned the EU by emphasizing that refugees in Turkey can be sent to Europe with "buses and planes," and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's dream could turn into a nightmare in the upcoming weeks.
Turkey, the country's northern neighbor, was one of the first countries to open its doors to Syrians displaced by war and sever ties with the brutal Assad regime, which violently suppressed any opposition. Five years on, Turkey still remains the safest haven for refugees who streamed into the country with few possessions, little or no money and no place to call home. Though Lebanon and Jordan, Syria's other neighbors, accepted the displaced, Turkey is lauded by the international community for offering the best accommodation standards to the refugees. Today, 2.7 million refugees from Syria live in Turkey, a figure that was unimaginable when the first group of 252 refugees quietly entered the country in 2011.
Turkey, although seasoned in hosting refugees as a transit country for migrants from Asia and the Middle East heading to Europe, was apparently unprepared when the exodus of the displaced from Syria started. Still, it managed to mobilize quickly, and tent camps established to host the early arrivals were rapidly upgraded to small neighborhoods with proper housing for refugees.