The Turkish Deal and The Refugee Crisis: Excuses for a More Humanitarian Europe?

The world is battling one of the worst humanitarian crises ever happened in the global history: with the rise of ISIS and increasing military intervention in the Middle East, more and more people from the conflict region (especially Syria) are trying to flee their homes, only packing their essentials, heading to the West with hopes for better lives, or at least to save themselves from massacre.

Refugees trying to pass the sea

Almost nobody disagrees that these people should flee their homes given the current conditions. But every single refugee means an immense burden on the host country. So the question “Who will host these people” has become hot debate topic over the last few months, especially in Europe. Many countries took a very reluctant position to accept the refugees, some like Germany looking very confused by the tradeoff between saving more refugees and increasing the burden they have to bear. The debate has increased and widened even further this week after the European Union announced that it reached a consensus with Turkey to make a deal regarding the refugee crisis. The deal -from what is understood from the statements of Turkish and European officials- if implemented will mean that in exchange for accepting each refugee illegaly crossing Turkish borders to Europe and placing him in the refugee camp in Southeastern Turkey, Turkey will send one refugee from these camps for resettlement in Europe. Sides seem to be aiming at encouraging legal immigration, thus a less riskier path to Europe for the refugees, and also transforming the irregular immigrant flow to a more ordered pattern. Alongside this deal, the European Union seems to have accepted granting Turkish passports the Schengen Visa by July this year, if all the necessary criteria are fulfilled by Turkey until then (1). Turkey also seems to have managed to get a significant amount of money from the EU in exchange for the deal. After the news of this new settlement, the debate about the crisis in Europe extended further to questions of accepting Turkish people into Europe and the burden of handing over such large sums of money to Turkey. Some Europarl MP’s stated that this was a massive diplomatic defeat against Turkey which will distort the entire fragile balance in the EU (*). Some European diplomats have condemned the deal for the European part, calling it a consequence of “political panic” (2). But should the Europeans really panic? Does this deal mean outsourcing the refugee problem to an unreliable country which is trying to turn it to an opportunity for securing free access to Europe at any time, meaning a flood of “barbarians” and “uncivilized people” to the continent?

*Davutoglu shaking hands with Tusk

As inhabitants of the world, we all should all admit that the burden the crisis brings is way too heavy to be loaded on some few countries who are themselves unwilling to resolve the problem. There is a huge influx of people coming from Syria -most of them being teachers, proffessors, craftsmen and state officers just like us, even though some try to reflect them as a huge flock of terrorists- and finding them new homes where they can readapt to life is a task which requires global cooperation. A country like Turkey which lacks the necessary political, financial and physical infrastructure and resources, or European border countries like Italy, Spain and Greece, most of them being in economic recession and experiencing troublesome issues like lack of growth, huge rates of unemployment and instability cannot handle this crisis on their own. Countries who have not put enough effort to help resolve the crisis such as the UK (3) should start increasing this effort in order to structure a feasible solution. The deal could be a starting point to build a sustainable solution since it suggests that the refugees in the Turkish camps should be reallocated inside the continent according to the plannings of the EU. Hence, the share of refugees in different EU members could at last be balanced and countries like Greece suffering from the fear that their fragile economy cannot handle such a problem (4) and deepen the economic recession might find relief.

Syrian refugees in Lesbos

Surveys show that the “Europeans feel the duty to aid the immigrants, but not in their own countries”, but nobody has infinite resources, so we should all realize that we should make some sacrifices for humanity. European politicians should put aside short term cost benefit calculations and pragmatic skepticism, and in accord with the European values formed after the expensive lessons of the Second World War, they all should give a hand for joint solutions. This deal demonstrates a more global, rather than zonal approach to the crisis and could hence be viewed as a milestone on the road to a more egalitairan distribution of this burden among the European countries. Short term calculations cannot reflect the benefit of saving so many lives from the hands of radicalism and terror and showing that all the Western civilization is about is humanism and respect to humanity. This is how Europe and civilization should be remembered in the history of humanity, instead of short-sightedness and selfish cowardice.

Most Europeans fear that this influx of immigrants to Europe is going to distort the European balances by giving the keys of this carefully designed system to some ignorant people with the ultimate aim to exploit everything they can and give as little as possible. This is simply a misguided approach which can “in the softest way” be named as xenophobia. The immigrants trying to save their lives are not terrorists or people willing with all their heart to distort social peace in Europe. Most of them are regular people just like us who used to be bankers, state officers or teachers, seeking to re-establish a peaceful life and start all over with new hopes. Just looking at how people migrating to the Western world managed to achieve tremendous things by combining their hardworking attitude and the peaceful environment they found in their new homes, we can see how cultural diversity helps flourishing the Western civilization. These people, when they are given a helping hand of a brother, will surely respond with commitment and compassion. On the other hand, shutting all the doors to safety and leaving these people to their misery would just mean more radicalism, more hatred for European values and creating more roots for such problems to emerge in the future.

What about the Turkish deal then? Why should the Europeans pay the price off accepting thousands of Turkish people simply unwilling to respect the European values into the continent just as they are with their passports? Wouldn’t this mean more unemployment, cheap labor flood and more economic problems for the EU?

A view from Istanbul, Taksim Sq., Turkey

First of all, seeing the Turkish people as “successors of the Ottomans who want to continue their progress in conquering Europe just from where they had left” is an extension of the xenophobic attitude we mentioned. Turkey is mostly characterized as being the nation which is the most compatible with the Western values among its neighbors in the Middle East. Of course the current government has expressed opinions contrasting this position and most of its non-democratic practices have been harshly criticized by many Western officials, but short term government policies and temporary attitudes -which have been deemed illogical and unsustainable by most Turkish academics and analysts- shouldn’t be viewed as indicators of long term trends and characteristics. This doesn’t change the fact that Turkey has been and will potentially be one of the best partners of the European Union. The Europeans shouldn’t be afraid from visa-free travelling for Turkey for the same reason they shouldn’t fear Syrian immigrants: visa-free travelling will only bring more cultural diversity, closer relationships and also potentially more vivid economies since the lifting of visas is likely to multiply the number of tourists flowing from Turkey to countries like Greece, Italy and Spain at these times of recession.

Since most European countries already experience moderate to high levels of unemployment, the implementation of visa-free travelling is highly unlikely to cause a further increase in unemployment in the European countries, or cheap labor flooding. Due to high unemployment rates, most Turkish workers will find migrating to Europe, where living costs are much higher when compared to Turkey, with the hope of better jobs a very risky attempt and won’t even consider it. Also, assuming that visa-free travel would immediately lead to immense labor mobility is just pure exaggeration and highly unrealistic. Visa-free travel doesn’t mean the absolute freedom to work in any job abroad, limitations may still remain. Even if they didn’t, especially low paid labor is seen to be scarcely mobile between different economies in most cases.

The obstacles which have been put in front of Turkey for EU membership (some of them undoubtedly being precise, while some were just redundant and looked more like excuses) have just caused antipathy against Europe and European values in Turkey, which is unpleseant for Europe since this certainly caused an increase in the negative perception of Europe in the Middle Eastern countries, potentially one of the reasons of radicalization in the region. This opportunity to start visa-free travelling is an excellent chance to blend different cultures, boost consumption in these times of recession and re-structure warmer relationships between Europe and the Middle East.

The Turkey-Schengen project can also be very beneficial for European politicians and economists since it can be seen as an experiment of partial EU membership without its financial aspects, such as the single currency model which is being criticized and potentially viewed as one of the reasons for the recession by many expert economists like Thomas Pikkety (5). Maybe this experince will be an ample opportunity to re-think of new ways to financially and politically structure the EU. Opening up Shengen to Turkey doesn’t mean opening up the opportunity of a European invasion to barbaric and ignorant people who are “born with and will continue to live with” hatred towards the western values. It just means closer ties and cultural exchanges with a nation trying to modernize and adapt to the developed world, fastening its progress and boosting its potential as a very critical partner.

So maybe, Europeans should view the Turkish deal as a small but significant start for structuring a feasible solution for this massive humanitarian crisis. Also, they should remember that Schengen talks with Turkey are nothing new and just part of the talks which have been continuing for decades, and nor they are a promise to include Turkey in the travel zone no matter what, they are just a fastening of the progress, in case Turkey can meet the required criteria. People shouldn’t view this as a European defeat against the Turks but instead the beginning of a new chapter in the crisis where people from all around the world start cooperating to solve this massive problem and where they re-remember our humanitarian values and the beauties of more communication, building new relationships with strong partners.

(1) see Hollande’s statement

(*) The statement of this MP is an example of the fear of letting Turkish people into the continent: see video

(2) — see Pierini’s statement

(3) The number of refugees Britain is accepting to welcome is just shameful for some of the greatest economies in the world. At the end of last year, Cameron was talking about allowing 1,000 people inside their borders whereas the number of refugees only from Syrian nationality in Greece was estimated to be 509,951 at the same time. See the links below for the stats:

Britain Greece

(4) Remember also that one of the main veins of the Greek economy is tourism, and as summer approaches, the Greeks have plenty of reasons to fear that this season might not be the best for tourism since all the Mediterranean islands are flooded with thousands of immigrants.


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