Migration and Europe: The view from Turkey

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A boat used to ferry migrants between Turkey and Greece. [adamansel52/Flickr]

European governments seem to be treating Turkey like a game on a football pitch, pushing the ball of inclusion around, but never really having the intention of allowing it to become an equal player on their field, writes Egemen Bağış.

Egemen Bağış is the former EU minister & chief negotiator of Turkey.

Migration of refugees is not a new issue, and yet, more than two years after the massive surge from Syria following a bloody and prolonged war, it remains high on the European Union agenda.

However, discussion and decisions and policies continue to be slow to come to fruition. One wonders when, if ever, the situation will be fully addressed.
A European Union that prides itself on upholding human rights is ultimately jeopardising more than it is assisting. In the time that it has taken thus far, there has been major physical, social and cultural upheaval in several European countries, which are increasingly impatient for tangible criteria that can reflect guidance and, not just a strategy, but a method to accomplish the objective.

In Turkey today, global human rights are currently being prioritised over national interests, due to the huge influx of immigrants who have desperately fled their home country in a bid for safety. With it came the need to assist them in adjusting to a new country, a new language, a new life. They had to leave in traumatic circumstances, and then they had to start over again.

Our European partners made promises of support for the rights of those people and for Turkey’s huge intervention, an intervention that has managed to stem the flow of many migrants further into Europe. Yet some of those promises were empty. Brussels has a timely responsibility to enforce the action plans that have been agreed, but at present there appears to be insufficient support garnered.

Member states of the EU must be held accountable for their input, yet many are dragging their feet in the bid to respond to the current needs, such as providing staffing availability of asylum experts and security officials. A successful coordination of sea and land engagement is vital. Information must be continually updated and shared in order to enable urgent decision making and in order to not just maintain, but also improve provisions and conditions for migrants and their host countries.

Essential aspects including safe living conditions, provision and availability of food, clothing, housing, schools and health facilities, require expedited resolutions. Alongside this, a productive legal framework for personal and travel documentation and visa liberalisation is required to provide an ongoing safe and effective future for migrants and citizens from all countries. As part of the agreement to review, process and implement these factors, the EU promised visa free travel rights for Turks, but this has not been granted, and increasingly citizens are becoming disillusioned with the offered and expected promises that fall flat.

European governments seem more interested in using Turkey as a metaphorical game on a football pitch, pushing the ball of inclusion around, but never really having the intention of allowing it to become a level player in their field. For instance, after courting Turkey when the need for assistance in monitoring and restricting the flow of migrants was top of the agenda, the tables have now turned. When the failed coup occurred last July, where was the reciprocal support and respect? Whilst criticising Turkey’s arrests, there is no highlighting of arrests in those countries of other terrorists, such as members of the PKK, itself a declared terrorist group, that Turkish authorities have continued to request deportation of.

The European Parliament needs to step up to the mark in making concrete decisions and following through on their agreements. It also now seems that the EU accession talks with Turkey are returning to the back-burner. One questions the EU’s original intentions. It appears that the exclusive club has developed into a group of people that value the circuit more than the reality. Years of talks, yet substantial progress defies us. For example, internal politics in Germany for the upcoming elections on 24 September are using Turkey as a bargaining chip in campaign rhetoric. It is polarising many of its citizens and inciting divergence between groups of the country’s own residents. This comes at a time when radicalisation is fast becoming a reality in the war on terror, and reflects heavily on young disillusioned minds.

It is a key to work through International political differences on a professional level without resorting to isolation tactics. The EU has a responsibility to ensure its member countries remain true to the motto of being “united in diversity”.
The wave of dissent developing across Europe, from the state of security and defence, to the focus of immigration, is causing untold damage for the future of the European Union. It is imperative that shared common goals are achieved through a collaboration of narrative; otherwise this growing unrest can implode.