The German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid another visit to Turkey on February 8 in order to discuss cooperation between Turkey and the European Union regarding the flow of irregular migrants into the EU and the implementation on the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan.
This is the third meeting in a row between Merkel and the Turkish authorities on the issue since October 2015. During the latest meeting in Ankara, the premiers of two countries agreed on a number of issues including a diplomatic initiative as a response to the recent Russian-backed offensive in Aleppo.
Commenting on the Russian-Syrian offensive, Merkel noted that “we have been, in the past few days, not just appalled but horrified by what has been caused in the way of human suffering for tens of thousands of people by bombing – primarily from the Russian side.”
Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, confirmed that the leaders also decided to “propose NATO’s engagement concerning all results of the refugee flow from Syria as an agenda item to NATO” for the upcoming NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels on February, 10-11.
Overall, statements of the two sides covered the usual declarations of burden-sharing to stem irregular migration and the efficient use of the €3bn aid granted to Turkey for the urgent needs of refugees as well as detailing technical cooperation between German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) and Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) on the ground.
Earlier, Merkel and the EU faced criticism for strengthening relations with Turkey and resuming the accession process due to concerns over the ongoing oppression of rights and freedoms in the country.
The EU’s position has been interpreted as tacit support for the AKP by the government’s opponents in Turkey. There are also critical voices questioning the actual efficiency of the plan in addressing the plight of refugees and migrants.
According to a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in November, since the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan was agreed in October, Turkey has closed borders and pushed back refugees trying to cross the border.
Mutual expectations and mistrust between the EU and Turkey remain high. The EU noted that few tangible results have been achieved in halting the flow of irregular migration from Turkey.
The EU expects a decline in the number of irregular migrants reaching the shores of Greece. In a statement confirming the EU expectations last month, the High Representative Mogherini warned that €3bn is not pocket money for Turkey.
Turkey is also determined to receive the promised incentives without delay: the opening of the accession chapters after a prolonged freeze in the negotiations and obtaining visa free travel for Turkish citizens, as declared by the EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkır.
Meanwhile, the EU camp remains divided regarding the effective response to the crisis created by the biggest refugee flow since the Second World War.
Broadly speaking, there are two camps. On the one hand, there is a group seeing the current influx as an opportunity for Europe rather than a crisis in the long term. They emphasize the importance of regularizing the refugee influx through cooperation with the neighboring countries.
On the other hand, more conservative and right-leaning groups like the European People’s Party, claim that “the first priority should be to gain control over our external borders”. In a recent statement, Syed Kamall, the chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament has stated that “Europe cannot be the destination for everyone seeking a better life”.
Despite the multitude of different opinions within these camps, almost everyone in Europe continue to frame the issue in one way or another through European security lenses. Amnesty International has warned on many occasions that there is no evident effort to put the basic human rights of refugees above security concerns.
The crisis will continue unabated in the foreseeable future as thousands flee to Turkey with the aim of reaching the EU territory.
A key summit to evaluate the implementation of the Action Plan between Turkey and eight like-minded EU countries is pending on February 18 in Brussels. In the meantime, between 30,000 and 35,000 displaced people from Aleppo are stranded at the Turkish border where they are awaiting shelter and protection; with more expected to arrive in the coming days.