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39 - Turkey and the refugee crisis

Grade: B-
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The refugee crisis shifted the balance of power between the EU and Turkey, propelling the EU to seek a deal 

During 2015, the EU came to regard Turkey – the host of some 2.5 million Syrian refugees – as central to dealing with the refugee crisis. The crisis has shifted the balance of power between the EU and Turkey and made the relationship a much more transactional one. As a result, Ankara has been able to extract concessions from the EU in return for its cooperation on stemming the flow of refugees into the EU.

At the EU–Turkey summit in November, a joint action plan was adopted in which Turkey committed to taking steps to help stem the inflow of refugees to the EU. These included policing the border and coordinating with neighbours, as well as improving the lives of refugees in Turkey by, for example, giving them access to education and work permits. The previous ban on refugees working in Turkey had been a major “push” factor.

Less than 24 hours after the summit ended, Turkish coast guards arrested 1,300 migrants and several suspected smugglers in a major crackdown on the Aegean coast – one of the main points of entry into Europe for refugees. But later in the year, EU member states called on Turkey to do more. By the end of 2015, between 2,000 and 3,000 people were still coming from Turkey to Greece on a daily basis.

The EU and Turkey also agreed at the summit to apply the readmission agreement, making it easier for the EU to repatriate Turkish nationals who have illegally entered the EU. The EU undertook to maintain a system of protection for Turkish Kurds seeking asylum, even if Turkey received safe country status.

The EU has remained ambivalent towards Turkey’s calls for the establishment of “safe zones” in northern Syria where refugees could be resettled. Russia’s deployment of S-400 missiles in Syria made it effectively impossible for Ankara to set up the zones.