It’s little more than a week since the worst terrorist attack in Turkish history – a vicious atrocity in which the government was at best neglectful and at worst actively complicit, in which more than 100 peaceful demonstrators were murdered because they called for an end to the ongoing war between the Turkish government and the Kurdish Workers Party.
Given the magnitude of these events, you would not think that this is really the time for a union of democratic governments to be handing out political rewards to the government responsible. But that is exactly what the European Union is doing, as it cosies up to Turkish president Recep Tayyib Erdogan with a haste that is just a little unseemly.
For years the EU has been trying to get Turkey to sign up to a readmission agreement that would enable it to send migrants back to Turkish territory if they have passed through it, regardless of whether or not they fit the Geneva Convention criteria for refugee status, and regardless of the fact that Turkey has a very weak tradition of refugee protection that make it legally questionable whether refugees applying for asylum should ever be sent back there.
Turkish governments have always looked askance at the notion that they should have to accept refugees seeking to enter Europe who only regard Turkey as a transit country. At the same time they have tried to use these requests as a bargaining chip, just as Ghaddafi did, when he threatened to ‘turn Europe black’ if he didn’t get the money he was asking for.
In Turkey’s case, the real prize was not money, but EU membership and visaless travel. Now the EU is poised to offer the latter, if Turkey will prevent refugees – most of whom are Syrian – from reaching Europe. In addition, the EU is pledging 3 billion euros to help Turkey build ‘reception centres’ to keep the refugees who will be ‘readmitted’ or not allowed to leave.
Now I have nothing against Turkish citizens being allowed to travel more easily to Europe, though it is worth pointing out that if Europe gave the same right to Syrians, Afghans and Eritreans, for example, then they would not be drowning in boats or paying their life savings to smugglers. But entrance to Europe, like Herman Hesse’s Magic Theatre, is not for everybody, and Turks will only gain this right if they stop other people from trying to access it.
All this absolutely reeks. Why should Turkey or any other country have to take responsibility for what is effectively a European problem? Given Turkey’s record, what safeguards are in place to ensure that these planned reception centres don’t become another Nauru, or even worse, another Libya? How does the EU think the Turkish police will treat refugees who don’t want to stay in these centres?
These are not questions to detain Donald Tusk or Angela Merkel – who appears to have recovered from her mysterious metamorphosis into Europe’s refugee Mother Courage, and has personally gone to Turkey to show Erdogan how much Europe now loves him – or at least needs him.
Contrary to Frau Merkel’s assertions, the gross hypocrisy of pretending that the EU only wants to keep Syrian refugees ‘closer to home’ does not make these proposals any less shameful, and there is nothing humanitarian about them. European governments don’t want migrants or refugees, and that is all this is about.
And in their pathetic desperation to prevent them from coming, the EU is prepared to actively reward an authoritarian leader who is leading is own country to disaster, by giving him a prize that Turkish leaders had sought for decades – on the eve of a crucial national election!
As John McEnroe used to say, you cannot be serous. But tragically, they are. And if Erdogan wins big in next month’s election, he will have the EU to thank for this disreputable deal that disregards the rights of refugees – and ignores the democratic forces in Turkish society that are seeking to stop Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party from permanently entrenching itself in power by unleashing the dogs of war.