There is not enough commitment nor enough political will from the European Union side to tackle the ongoing issue of migration, Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın said Tuesday, marking the fifth anniversary of the migration pact Turkey and the bloc signed in 2016.
“The deal failed to produce expected results,” Kalın said, speaking at the web panel of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) titled “EU-Turkey Statement: Reassessment of the Migration Agreement.”
“No single country can shoulder this huge responsibility alone,” he stated, adding that until today the EU acted as if the migration issue is not its problem unless it is at the bloc’s door.
Kalın underlined that the conditions have changed substantially in the past five years as the deal was mostly concerned with infrastructural support for refugees.
“Needs are different today – educational and health needs have become more prominent while infrastructure problems have been addressed in Turkey,” he pointed out.
“On the Syrian side, more (internally displaced people) IDPs have moved toward the Turkish-Syrian border. They do not feel safe either under Assad regime-controlled areas or under areas controlled by the PYD/YPG,” Kalın said referring to the PKK-led terror groups in Syria.
Kalın further mentioned that around 480,000 refugees have returned to Syria from Turkey to areas under Turkey’s control – from Afrin to Jarablus, Tal Abyad and other places – “but not to areas controlled by the Assad regime, under Russian-Iranian control or PYD/YPG control.”
“We cannot expect refugees to be refugees for the rest of their lives. We need to create conditions to allow them to go back to their own country, but this requires collective work.”
“The EU and its Member States will work with Turkey in any joint endeavor to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria, in particular in certain areas near the Turkish border which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be safer,” read the March 18 statement, however, Ankara did not receive the support it expected in this manner and conducted military operations into Syria's north to clear the region of terrorist elements.
Turkey cares for almost 10 million Syrian refugees both within Turkey and Syria, Kalın said.
“We need a revision of statement,” said Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Initiative (ESI).
Saying that Turkey and the EU should again reengage, Knaus stated: “The EU must remember that Turkey still carries a huge burden, a responsibility for the biggest number of refugees in the world. It should put on the table another substantial sum of money to fund education, healthcare and social support for refugees in Turkey.”
“It should engage in a more intense dialogue with Turkey and bring in the U.N. and others on what to do about the ongoing catastrophe of internally displaced Syrians in the northwest of Syria, which is not only a problem of Turkey which is at the border, but should be a humanitarian priority to address by the whole civilized world,” he added.
Most recently, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Turkey representative Philippe Leclerc told Daily Sabah similarly that 10 years on, Syrian refugees, as well as host countries, still face hardships and that Turkey should be supported further.
In September 2015, the image of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi's lifeless body that washed ashore in Turkey sent shock waves across the world.
Six months later, Turkish and EU leaders inked a migration pact under which Ankara was to receive political and financial benefits in return for tackling migration.
However, Brussels did not keep its promises to ease visa regulations and upgrade the customs union.
Shortly after the deal was struck in May 2016, arrivals of irregular migrants in the European Union dropped sharply – but still remain high. Almost 860,000 irregular migrants made their way from Turkey to Greece by sea in 2015, compared to 60,000 in 2019. The numbers dropped to a record low of 9,714 people in 2020 – although this is likely related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Essentially swapping migrants, the EU also promised to accept one Syrian eligible for asylum for every Syrian who was returned to Turkey from the Greek islands without having received asylum. As a result of this, thousands of Syrians have been resettled in the EU, though this pales in comparison to the millions of Syrians Turkey is estimated to be hosting.
By March 2021, only 2,140 migrants have been sent back to Turkey under the pact, also due to the overwhelmed asylum system in Greece that drags procedures on for years.
The deal reduced the number of migrants reaching Europe, while Turkey received most of the 6 billion euros ($7.15 billion) in EU support.
Five years on, the pact is failing as Turkey struggles with the increased number of migrants, while the EU is more divided than ever over its asylum policy.
Turkey is hosting 6 million migrants, with nearly 4 million from Syria, its migration authority says. That's 2 million more than in 2016, a heavy burden on a country that only had 60,000 asylum-seekers in 2011 before Syria's civil war broke out.
The pact nearly collapsed last year when thousands of migrants, mostly Afghans, Pakistanis and Iraqis, amassed at the Turkish border with Greece after Ankara opened its borders for those heading to Europe, fearing more refugees from Syria's Idlib.
The border crisis was interrupted by the outbreak of the pandemic.
Speaking on the March 18 statement, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday during a press conference said that the “statement remains valid.”
Borrell said that the deal should continue to be implemented and continue to be the key framework for cooperation on migration.
“This is an engagement of mutual trust and delivery that requires continuous efforts from all sides. It has been very much criticized, but I think that this statement has produced tangible results. It has led to a significant decrease of loss of human lives, a reduction in irregular crossings, and improved the situation of refugees and migrants in Turkey,” he said.
Borrell highlighted that the bloc will “try to look for a renewal of this common engagement.”
He said that “preventing irregular departures, avoiding losses of lives and helping Turkey to support the burden that it represents to have such a big amount of people on their territory is part of our common interest.”
Borrell added that the statement will be taken into consideration for the upcoming EU leaders meeting to discuss the EU's relations with Ankara and "will be part of our future relationship with Turkey."
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