Are migrants in Turkey a new headache for the EU?


The EU and Turkey have had a love-hate relationship over the course of the last decade. The two sides have experienced vast number of crises that have tested the quality of their relations. The very last one occurred in the middle of the last decade – the migrant crisis. As Turkey was on the crossroads and transit zone for migrants flowing from the Middle East (and even Northern Africa) it played a key role for the EU as an external actor in this process. What is the current situation when it comes to the migratory issues within Turkey? Are migrants in Turkey a new headache for the EU?

Last year, ABC News announced that Turkey hosted about 3.6 million Syrian refugees. In 2016, it agreed with the European Union to step up efforts to halt the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees who headed from its shores into Greece in 2015, in return for funds to support the refugees. Apart from the Syrian refugees registered in Turkey, the country has also been a staging ground and transit point for many people from the Middle East, North Africa and central Asia hoping to head to Europe. Its coastline’s proximity to Greek islands, and the country’s land border with EU member Greece, have made it one of the preferred routes into the EU for those fleeing war and poverty at home.

According to the International Organization for Migration, Turkey hosts one of the largest migrants and refugee populations in the world.  At the end of 2015, over 2.5 million people sought temporary protection or asylum within Turkey’s borders – primarily Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis. During the summer of 2015, Turkey was at the center of one of the largest migrations of people since the Second World War. The increased number of migrants and refugees leads to additional challenges for migration management strategies, humanitarian assistance and migrant protection and assistance. Governments, humanitarian organizations and intergovernmental institutions are working together to develop comprehensive policies and actions to sustainably manage the migration.

As the leading intergovernmental migration organization, IOM provides support and assistance to the Turkish Government to establish an effective, comprehensive and human-rights based approach to Turkey’s migration challenges. For over two decades, IOM has played a critical role in Turkey: to build capacity on migration management and policies, advance migrants’ rights and, to provide assistance directly and with the coordination of our implementing partners to refugees and victims of human trafficking. to assist vulnerable migrants, to prepare and respond to emergencies, as well as to provide technical expertise.

At the end of 2020, the DW reported that the EU-Turkey statement as “a stain on the European Union’s human rights record and people in search of protection (…) continue to pay the price”. Moreover, there were still 15,000 people trapped on Greek islands in camps, which were overcrowded and did not have enough provisions.  “Given the scale of this avoidable crisis, it has become crystal clear that outsourcing the EU’s migration management to non-EU-countries is neither a humane, sustainable or workable solution”, said DW’s correspondent. In spring 2020, President Erdogan resorted to blackmail and transported thousands of people to the Greek border. Athens reacted by blocking the border and refusing to allow people to enter. The brutality showed once again that the EU had failed to protect human rights. Turkey called for the deal to be extended and more funds. It also criticized the fact that promises to ease visa regulations and to introduce a new customs deal were not fulfilled. The EU argued that Ankara’s anti-democratic course and the increase of human rights violations in Turkey were one reason for the delay.

In 2021, the migrants in Turkey are still presenting the headache for the EU leaders, as  President Erdogan threatens to allow mass flow of migrants towards the Western Europe. The situation even after 6 years of the escalation of the crisis is not settled yet, without a clear pathway towards the sustainable solution.

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