EU leaders will meet tomorrow (17 December) for a 2-day summit with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, and make further overtures to his country. However, at this stage it is impossible to say if Turkey’s commitment to halt the influx of refugees has made a difference.
EurActiv asked Frontex, the European agency for operational cooperation at the external borders of the EU, if they had been able to measure any difference in the arrival of migrants from Turkish territory to the Greek islands since the 29 November EU-Turkey summit. At the summit, EU leaders and Davuto?lu agreed on a deal to stem the flow of refugees to Europe, coupled with an unfreezing of accession negotiations, and an initial €3 billion assistance package.
Frontex spokesperson Izabella Cooper said that it was not possible to make an assessment at this stage.
“It is too early to talk about a trend. The most likely reason for the decrease is the seasonal decrease (bad weather). Others may possibly also include consideration of the fact that the Macedonian authorities have closed their borders,” she said.
Indeed, Macedonia now only allows Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan nationals on its territory, who are seen as genuine asylum seekers, rather than “economic migrants”. These restriction have been slammed by the United Nations.
If this assessment is confirmed, this would mean that Macedonia, a country that hardly gets attention from Brussels, is doing more to stem the refugee crisis than Turkey, for whom leaders of the EU are rolling out the red carpet.
According to the Frontex website, the number of migrants arriving in Greece in November fell by more than half from the previous month to 108,000, recording its first month-on-month drop this year. However, this was still the highest number of arrivals in Greece in the month of November.
The worsening weather conditions, which make it more dangerous for refugees to cross the sea from Turkey to the Greek islands, are likely the main reason for the significant decrease in the number of asylum sskers, Frontex says. Another factor mentioned is “the more restrictive border control policy recently implemented on the Western Balkan route, which has discouraged some of migrants from making the trip”, the website says, without mentioning the role of Macedonia.
Davuto?lu is expected to meet with “like-minded countries” led by Germany and Austria, which will likely discuss the resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkish territories by air directly to those countries, avoiding the painful land crossing. The other ‘like-minded’ countries are Belgium, Finland, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden.
However, the number of refugees to be resettled is expected to be small. Some EU countries, reports allege, would like the number of refugees resettled to be deducted from their commitment to relocate refugees from Italy and Greece. This, however, would be hardly acceptable to the rest of the EU..