The dramatic surge in the number of refugees and migrants that arrived in Europe over the course of 2015 should not have come as a surprise. For anyone paying attention to the civil war in Syria—as well as to the festering conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen—it was clear that the crisis had been a long time coming. Yet the arrival of so many, and in so chaotic and desperate a manner, caught European policymakers off-guard. As morethan one million people entered Europe, primarily by crossing the Mediterranean, the fabled solidarity underpinning the European project began to crumble. As some governments scrambled to construct makeshift reception centers in resorts and army barracks, others looked on with indifference, and still more did so with alarm. European politicians turned on one another, blaming those who had failed to manage their borders, those who had supposedly encouraged migrants with their hospitality, and those who had done nothing at all.
Last March, shortly after Croatia, Macedonia, and Slovenia closed their borders, shutting the so-called western Balkan refugee route, the EU struck a deal with Turkey. Ankara would take back migrants who had reached Greece and crack down on the migrant-smuggling industry that had taken root along the Aegean coast. In return, the EU would pay Turkey six billion euros to host the millions of refugees already displaced in the country and accelerate talks on visa-free travel for Turkish nationals to the EU and, in the longer term, on EU accession for Turkey. Numerous observers argued that the deal violated international law: Turkey, they said, was not yet a safe country for refugees, a claim strengthened by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on dissent and jailing of journalists and political opponents.
The only credible justification for the deal was that it was necessary to give the EU time to develop a sustainable internal response. Yet as the urgency of the crisis has ebbed, European officials have squandered the breathing room the Dublin Regulation, which states that the EU country in which asylum seekers first arrive must weigh their claims and then either host or return them.
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