It has now become clear that the solution to Europe’s refugee and migration crisis lies not in quotas and allocations but in how to stop them coming here in the first place. Long term strategy to end the crisis can wait. For now, an emergency treatment is needed and the sticking plaster for Europe seems to come in the shape of Turkey.
Fearful that millions of potential refugees may be heading for Europe, the most burning question is how to regain control of the European Union’s external borders.
The first step is to stem the flow of refugees, right now mainly Syrians, leaving the countries of first asylum, among them Turkey. Offering more financial and logistic help for Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other countries in the region to improve conditions for the refugees living in those countries will be one of the priorities.
The aim is to contain the refugees in the region and help facilitate their return to their home towns as soon as feasible. In the meantime, the host countries would be given aid to provide jobs, education and healthcare for people living in the camps and communities to keep them comfortable enough to stay where they are.
In this plan, Turkey appears to be the key country to become the EU’s refugee buffer zone. The EU says it will increase its financial aid significantly and is ready to mobilise €1billion for Turkey. There will be additional support through the World Food Programme and the UNCHR.
Turkey is likely to welcome any serious burden sharing with its 2 million-plus refugee population. How satisfied it will be by being considered as a “sticking plaster” for Europe’s growing wound is another matter. Turkey has been closely involved in Syria’s conflict. Even if its leaders may have given up their ambition to pray in Damascus anytime soon, Turkey still argues that Bashar al-Assad can have no role in Syria’s future, thus dismissing any suggestion of launching a political dialogue with the Syrian president.
EU leaders meeting in Brussels for their emergency summit on Wednesday may have widely differing opinions on the nature of their union but they all share a common interest in managing the refugee crisis and maintaining their public’s support.
A recent poll in Germany has shown that over the past week, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity has dropped to its lowest level this year.
The refugee influx has galvanized support for the anti-immigration, anti-EU parties in a number of countries at the expense of centrist parties.
In Britain, where migration is one of the most contentious issues for any government, the public opinion may be turning against not only the present government policy but against the British membership of the EU.
The UK, the largest EU contributor to the Syrian humanitarian crisis, has taken a distinctly different approach on the refugee issue. It is not participating in the EU plans to relocate refugees who are already in Europe but instead is taking a total of 20,000 Syrians over the next five years, from the refugee camps from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
The British government argues that opening its doors to migrants ‘fit and wealthy enough to reach its shores’ will encourage more to come. Yet, choosing to bring ‘the neediest’ refugees from the camps in first arrival countries such as Turkey is somewhat contradictory, considering its stance on the European asylum procedures and who should qualify for asylum in the UK.
Robert Chenciner, a senior member of St. Antony’s College, Oxford, told me that there are several points needing further clarification by the UN, the EU and the British authorities themselves on the asylum issue.
“While I entirely sympathize with the plight of the Syrian refugees, the following points are confusing, both ethically and practically, “ Chenciner says.
“In theory refugees are supposed to claim asylum in the first convention country they reach where they will be ‘safe’. Thus Syrian Kurdish refugees, for example, might reasonably feel unsafe in Turkey; however that would not apply to Greece, Hungary and other EU countries. Many Syrian asylum seekers interviewed have said that they have in effect ‘chosen’ their country i.e. Germany. This again is contrary to the rule of ‘first safe country’.
Secondly, for an island like the UK, the Home Office often argues that refugees who have, necessarily, passed through other countries should not qualify to apply for refugee status in the UK. The courts usually discount this if they were only transiting through intermediate countries, but there seems to be no announced policy”.
According to Robert Chenciner, there are tens of thousands of current asylum applicants in the UK from all over the world, virtually all of them fleeing from risk of death. “In a world where there are ever more asylum seekers, is it not perplexing to decide who to fast-track?” he rightly asks.
This post is also available in: Turkish