A plan to help diffuse Europe’s refugee crisis by sending thousands of people back to Turkey is taking shape, though not without controversy. Reports of a deal that would have Turkey taking back all refugees that cross into Europe from its soil, reached during a mini European summit on Monday, have prompted rights groups to warn that blanket returns may be illegal and a threat to the asylum process.
Nonetheless, Europe – stumbling under the weight of an influx of refugees, largely from Syria — looks to be moving ahead with the plan. And Turkey is taking full advantage.
Not only is Ankara demanding billions of dollars in aid, but it is calling for the introduction of visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens, and an acceleration of long-stalled membership talks to join the European Union.
Turkey has proven fickle on accession in the past, amid cooled relations with Europe. (Membership talks resumed in 2014 after a long freeze.) Europe has had its own reservations. As Blouin News previously reported:
Reluctance to allow this long-time E.U. aspirant stems from a number of persistent issues, namely internal tensions with the nation’s large Kurdish population and widespread human rights violations. Discomfort with allowing a predominantly Muslim state is another factor.
Now, the main obstacle will be Germany, which has historically opposed Turkish accession. But Turkey has the upper hand here. Over one million refugees traveled to Europe in 2015; tens of thousands are trapped in Greece after border shutdowns blocked the popular ‘Balkans Corridor.’ On Wednesday, Turkey’s coastguard intercepted dozens of refugees attempting to make the dangerous sea crossing to Greece. And more are coming.