Turkey’s presidential spokesman on Friday called for a revision of the 2016 migration deal with the EU ahead of the bloc’s summit slated for next week.
“It’s time to substantially revise the deal, not only to stop the next flow of migrants but also to revitalise Turkey-EU relations,” Ibrahim Kalin wrote in an article he penned for the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
Recalling that this week marks the fifth anniversary of the March 18, 2016 Turkey-EU statement on migration, Kalin said: “This agreement dramatically reduced the number of irregular immigrants, stopped people smugglers and saved many lives.”
“But it was never fully implemented because of the EU’s bureaucracy and the narrow political agenda of some member states,” Kalin added.
“A new deal could provide the basis for a new spirit in Turkey-EU relations,” he underlined. “This, in turn, could herald a new geopolitical dynamism for our respective regions as well as for the transatlantic alliance.”
Kalin said that he hoped “this will be the strategic perspective of European leaders as they prepare for the EU summit on March 25-26.”
‘Syrian war is the root cause of migration problem’
According to Kalin, the deal “is only one of the many key items on the larger Turkey-EU agenda, but it is an important one.”
The deal’s effectiveness depends on addressing three interrelated issues, he explained.
“Firstly, we must acknowledge and address the root cause of the problem, the Syrian war.
“Ten years ago, peaceful protesters asked for freedom, prosperity, and dignified treatment from their government,” he added.
“The Syrian regime responded with the systematic use of unspeakable violence, killings, and summary executions. All kinds of war crimes have been committed in the last ten years.
“The Syrian people have borne the heaviest burden in this conflict. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians died and more than half of the population became refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs),” Kalin noted.
He stressed that the war in Syria has been “the source of multiple crises,” such as migration, the rise of Daesh/ISIS terror group and terrorist attacks by the terrorist organizations YPG and PKK, as well as “ethnic and sectarian tensions and regional rivalries with global repercussions.”
“In its 10th year, the Syrian crisis continues unabated. Without a serious and concerted effort by the international community, this war will continue to shake the regional order and subvert international dynamics,” he added.
“Europe cannot delegate such critical issues to the United States alone. It ought to take a more active and prominent role in containing this multi-dimensional crisis.”
‘Europe can and must do more to go beyond burden-sharing’
According to Kalin, secondly, many dynamics have changed following the agreement.
“When the agreement was signed back in 2016, Turkey had 2.5 million Syrian refugees. Today it has around 3.6 million Syrian refugees and about 400,000 refugees from Afghanistan, Libya, Iran and other parts of the world.”
“The numbers are increasing by the day, and the problems of the refugees are deepening,” he added.
“Turkey is providing aid to about four million refugees within Turkey, mostly through the use of its own resources in terms of food, shelter, education and medical services, and to another five million to six million IDPs on the Syrian side. Overall, Turkey is taking care of around ten million Syrians. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened conditions,” he said.
Kalin underlined that the world cannot “expect the Syrian or other refugees to remain refugees for the rest of their lives.”
“More political, financial and humanitarian resources must be mobilized to address the migration crisis in an effective, comprehensive and dignified manner,” he added.
“Europe can and must do more to go beyond burden-sharing alone. What we need is serious ownership and leadership in tackling the migration crisis and the root causes behind it.”
Kalin also underlined that the Turkish people have shown immense hospitality and solidarity by hosting millions of Syrian refugees for almost a decade.
“However, the European attitude, with some notable exceptions, has been one of deferment and denial: ‘As long as the immigrants are far away from our borders, it is not our problem but someone else’s.’ This cannot be the basis of a humane and functional immigration policy.”
“Turning a blind eye to a problem does not make it disappear. What we see on the ground tends to disregard humanitarian values and norms,” he added.
‘It’s in Europe’s interest to provide security, stability for Syria’
The Turkish official said: “Thirdly, and most importantly, an update on the March 18  statement has the potential to revitalise Turkey-EU relations.”
“The statement already has a roadmap with the specific goals of strengthening Turkey’s accession process, starting the process of updating the Customs Union, revitalising high level dialogue and summits between Turkey and the EU, encouraging visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, better cooperation in the management of irregular migration and the protection of asylum-seekers, and the fight against terrorism.”
“None of these goals is beyond reach. When [Turkish] President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan met the EU presidents in Brussels last year, these points were also included in the roadmap, which has yet to be implemented,” he added.
“The EU needs to show leadership and determination to reciprocate Turkey’s positive steps,” Kalin explained.
Turkey has taken key steps in recent months to create a positive political climate, the Turkish presidential spokesman said, and stressed Erdogan’s and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s contacts, human rights action plan, and exploratory talks with Greece.
Noting that Turkey has been “single-handedly protecting over 3 million people in Idlib, despite continuous violations and attacks by the Assad regime with the support of Russia and Iran,” Kalin said: “In the absence of such protection, several million Syrians would start moving towards Turkey and Europe.”
“It’s in Europe’s interest to support Turkey in Idlib and elsewhere in Syria to provide security and stability for hundreds of thousands of Syrians,” he added.
‘New migration deal should build on achievements of current agreement’
Stressing that these issues are crucial to advance a positive Turkey-EU agenda and can help bring Turkey and the EU closer, Kalin said: “All other alternatives would fail to provide security and prosperity for our citizens.”
“This opportunity should not be squandered on the basis of the whims and narrow political agendas of certain member states,” he added.
“A new migration deal should build on the achievements of the current agreement but take further steps to address the new challenges that have emerged over the last five years,” he said.
“The processes and mechanisms for delivering financial support to refugees in Turkey and Syria should be expedited.”
“The needs and priorities of refugees and IDPs should be determined in consultation with Turkish and local authorities. Beyond simply providing more funding, the new deal should give the Syrian people a sense of hope and trust,” he added.
Kalin also recalled that it is the 10th anniversary of the Syrian war, and said: “We have to put aside our differences and focus on the real issues.”