On March 18, the leaders of the European Union reached a controversial deal with Turkey. That agreement, touted as a resolution to the refugee crisis, was in essence a cynical bargain to turn Turkey into a buffer zone. Turkey has agreed to act as a giant refugee holding center, keeping the millions of migrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East from reaching Europe and accepting those sent back from Greece. In exchange, the EU will pay Turkey three billion euros on top of the three billion pledged last November to help care for the refugees. It will also speed up the approval of visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens and revive stalled negotiations over Turkey’s accession to the EU. The EU also agreed to settle a limited number of Syrian refugees—up to 72,000—directly from Turkey to Europe based on a crude “one-in, one-out” trade: for every Syrian smuggled to Greece but returned to Turkey, the EU will legally resettle one Syrian directly from Turkey to a European country. Finally, European leaders promised that once the flood of migration has abated they will implement a “voluntary humanitarian admission scheme,” a vaguely conceived program under which a coalition of willing member states could volunteer to resettle additional refugees.
Rights groups and refugee advocates, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have denounced the deal as immoral and illegal. Yet in the face of this unprecedented crisis, the deal might be defensible if it actually promised to shut down the smuggling operations that have led to thousands of refugees drowning and to prevent the collapse of the Schengen area—the 26-country border-free zone in Europe. But this deal will do neither. As the Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Munchau put it, “The EU not only sold its soul that day, it actually negotiated a pretty lousy deal.”
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
In the lead-up to the deal, the EU was under enormous pressure to cut the flow of migrants into Europe. Forecasts three million in the EU this year, the bulk of them passing from Turkey to Greece. And those countries that had been the most receptive to refugees, such as Germany and Sweden, had become less welcoming, especially after last year’s terrorist attack in Paris and a mass sexual assault in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve, the latter allegedly by groups of immigrant men. European publics were already calling on their leaders to shut the gates (and those cries will get even louder now in the wake of the Brussels bombing). Throughout the winter and spring, one state after another has reintroduced border controls, at least temporarily dismantling the Schengen area. In early March, Austria and Balkan countries shut down the Balkan route that most refugees had taken toward northern Europe, leaving nearly 50,000 trapped in Greece in deplorable conditions, with thousands more arriving across the Aegean every day. As the situation became unsustainable, EU leaders sought a new agreement with their Turkish counterparts to stop the flow of refugees.
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