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Turkey's refugee card game dicing with failure

By Xinhua-Afp ( China Daily ) Updated: 2017-03-22 07:22:01

Threat to open door to migrants risks backfiring on Erdogan government

ISTANBUL - The Syrian refugee card that Turkey is playing to push the European Union to grant visa-free travel for Turkish citizens risks failure, as many of the refugees choose to stay in Turkey instead of leaving for a hostile Europe, analysts said.

"Even if the doors are opened (by Turkey), I don't think the refugees would flock to Europe in large numbers as was the case in the past," said Metin Corabatir, president of the Ankara-based Research Center on Asylum and Migration.

The Turkish government feels the EU has failed to honor a jointly-concluded refugee deal by not having so far granted Turkish citizens visa-free travel to the Schengen countries within the bloc.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu threatened last week to "blow the mind" of Europe by allowing 15,000 refugees to flock to Europe each month.

Turkey's refugee card game dicing with failure

Turkey officially hosts around 3.6 million refugees, some 3.2 million of whom are Syrians.

Turkey inked the refugee pact with the EU in November 2015 to stop the illegal migration toward Europe in return for visa-free travel for its citizens, revival of its long-stalled accession talks and financial aid for refugees in Turkey.

"I feel many of the Syrians have already started to establish a life for themselves in Turkey," said Corabatir.

Noting it became clear in 2015 that Europe was not waiting for the refugees with open arms, he added, "Leaving for Europe would be a big risk for the refugees."

According to the UN refugee agency, a total of 844,000 refugees, the majority of them Syrians, who illegally migrated to Greece via Turkey in 2015. Some also illegally entered Greece and Bulgaria through the Turkish border in Thrace.

Many of the refugees made it to Germany, but had to face great hardships on their way due to cold weather, long walks and bad treatment at border checkpoints.

Hundreds of refugees were drowned in the Aegean while trying to reach Greek islands. Some countries built fences to stop the refugees from entering their territories, with Bulgaria expected to complete in May a 270-kilometer-long fence along the Turkish border to prevent illegal migration.

European politicians have felt threatened by the mass arrivals as anti-refugee sentiment has risen on the continent.

"Other than small groups, I don't expect there to be a big wave of migrants toward Europe any more," said Murat Bilhan, deputy chairman of the think tank Turkish Asian Center for Strategic Studies.

Following the deal, irregular migration to Europe through Turkish shores has sharply fallen thanks largely to measures taken by Turkey along its Aegean coast and its border in Thrace.

This is in contrast to the route in the central Mediterranean between Libya and Italy, where three times more people have died trying to cross compared to last year, the UN said.

Turkey expected the EU, based on the deal updated in March last year, to grant visa-free travel by last October, arguing that it had fulfilled all the 72 benchmarks required under the deal.

The EU argues, however, that there are still several benchmarks Turkey needs to meet, like narrowing the definition of terrorism in the criminal law.

Various reports penned by Turkish researchers in recent years have argued that many of the Syrians are here to stay.

Bilhan, the former diplomat, feels that a recent ban by some EU countries on campaign rallies by several Turkish cabinet ministers may well be linked to this fact about Syrians in Turkey.

Syrians have managed in one way or another to scrape a living in Turkey and are well aware of Europe's negative attitude toward migrants, he said.

Currently, 258,000 of the roughly 3.2 million Syrians in Turkey are hosted in camps in various cities, while the rest are left to their own devices.

The refugee issue was once again raised by Turkey last week following a spat with Germany and the Netherlands, two EU members that barred Turkish ministers from addressing Turkish immigrants ahead of a key referendum in Turkey.

Soylu's remarks came after Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that Turkey could cancel the refugee deal, accusing the EU of having failed to do its part.

"If there is no visa-free travel, we may cancel the migration deal," Cavusoglu said.

And there is no sign that the spat between Turkey and Germany is easing, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying on Tuesday that voting 'yes' in next month's referendum on expanding his powers was the best response to what he called a "fascist and cruel" Europe.

Earlier, Volker Bouffier, vice chairman of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, had said that neither Erdogan nor his officials were welcome in Germany.

The comment came after German media reported that Erdogan planned to visit Germany this month to rally the estimated 1.4 eligible Turkish voters living in the country.

Following the deal, irregular migration to Europe through Turkish shores has sharply fallen thanks largely to measures taken by Turkey along its Aegean coast and its border in Thrace.

This is in contrast to the route in the central Mediterranean between Libya and Italy, where three times more people have died trying to cross compared to last year, the UN said.

Turkey expected the EU, based on the deal updated in March last year, to grant visa-free travel by last October, arguing that it had fulfilled all the 72 benchmarks required under the deal.

The EU argues, however, that there are still several benchmarks Turkey needs to meet, like narrowing the definition of terrorism in the criminal law.

Various reports penned by Turkish researchers in recent years have argued that many of the Syrians are here to stay.

Bilhan, the former diplomat, feels that a recent ban by some EU countries on campaign rallies by several Turkish cabinet ministers may well be linked to this fact about Syrians in Turkey.

Syrians have managed in one way or another to scrape a living in Turkey and are well aware of Europe's negative attitude toward migrants, he said.

Currently, 258,000 of the roughly 3.2 million Syrians in Turkey are hosted in camps in various cities, while the rest are left to their own devices.

The refugee issue was once again raised by Turkey last week following a spat with Germany and the Netherlands, two EU members that barred Turkish ministers from addressing Turkish immigrants ahead of a key referendum in Turkey.

Soylu's remarks came after Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that Turkey could cancel the refugee deal, accusing the EU of having failed to do its part.

"If there is no visa-free travel, we may cancel the migration deal," Cavusoglu said.

And there is no sign that the spat between Turkey and Germany is easing, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying on Tuesday that voting 'yes' in next month's referendum on expanding his powers was the best response to what he called a "fascist and cruel" Europe.

Earlier, Volker Bouffier, vice chairman of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, had said that neither Erdogan nor his officials were welcome in Germany.

The comment came after German media reported that Erdogan planned to visit Germany this month to rally the estimated 1.4 eligible Turkish voters living in the country.

 Turkey's refugee card game dicing with failure

A migrant feeds a baby after disembarking from a coast guard vessel in the Sicilian harbour of Augusta, Italy, on Monday.Antonio Parrinello / Reuters

(China Daily 03/22/2017 page11)

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