An historic deal between the European Union and Turkey detailing the administration of Syrian refugees continues to unravel amid concerns by Brussels regarding Ankara’s quickly deteriorating record on human rights.
Recently, European leaders nearly unanimously signaled an unwillingness to approve visa-free travel for Turkish residents within the Schengen zone, citing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s persecution of domestic opposition and dissent. Europe’s decision to retreat from offering Turkey visa-free travel, a critical component of the EU-Turkey refugee negotiations, tipped Erdogan into a fit of rage on Tuesday.
Speaking at a World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Erdogan threatened to unleash a flood of refugees into Europe if the EU failed to approve his visa-free travel demands.
"If it is not approved then no decision and no law in the framework of the readmission agreement will come out of the parliament of the Turkish Republic," Erdogan shouted.
The EU gives Turkey the cold shoulder as Ankara takes a troubling turn
The Turkish president has come under fire in recent months for alleged ethnic cleansing against the country’s Kurdish minority, as well as funneling arms and money to Daesh through illicit oil trade, undermining a Syrian coalition countering Islamist radicals, declaring an intent to reconstitute the Ottoman empire, cracking down on freedom of the press, attacking US protesters during a visit to Washington, fomenting civil strife between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh territory, and, most recently, seizing absolute dictatorial control over the country.
The latter issue appears to be the final rub for the European Union, as on Sunday Erdogan advanced a constitutional amendment that stripped the Turkish parliament of legal immunity, declaring his intent to prosecute the entirety of the opposition HDP party, which aligns with the country’s Kurdish minority, under Ankara’s ill-defined new anti-terrorism laws.
Europe has specifically demanded that Ankara amend the country’s anti-terrorism laws, arguing that the overly-broad measures limit any and all forms of opposition political speech and threaten the existence of a free and independent press. A belligerent Erdogan refused, declaring that "the European Union needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the European Union."
The refugee crisis and the Turkey-EU deal
Turkey is host to over 2.7 million Syrian refugees, fleeing death or enslavement at the hands of Daesh and an ongoing five-year civil war. Evidence suggests, however, that Turkey routinely provides arms to and purchases oil from the violent Islamic organization, with a view toward toppling the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Earlier, a now-imprisoned Turkish parliamentarian leaked government papers exposing Erdogan’s role in orchestrating a false-flag sarin gas attack in Syria that nearly led the United States to commit ground troops to oust the Assad regime in August 2013, US President Obama’s so-called redline that the Syrian president was then accused of crossing.
In addition to contributing to the enormous human tragedy of the Syrian refugee crisis, the increasingly embattled Turkish leader looks to profiteer from the calamity and advance his own imperial desires by blackmailing Europe with the specter of unregulated migration. Erdogan extracted over $3.35 billion (3 billion euros) and assurances that Turkey’s accession to the EU would be fast-tracked and her people receive visa-free travel throughout Europe by July 2016.
In return for the money, Turkey offered to take the refugees that Europe found most disagreeable and block migration from Turkey into Greece, in an arrangement that received immediate scorn from international human rights groups who pointed out that the deal looked a lot like legislated human trafficking.
On Wednesday, Loud & Clear’s Brian Becker sat down with Kemal Okuyan, the chief editor of Turkish daily newspaper Sol, and himself the subject of prosecution in Turkey for "insulting" President Erdogan, to discuss the collapse of the EU-Turkey deal and what may happen next.
"I think from the beginning this refugee deal is blocked already," said Okuyan. "I think there will be a disagreement between the European Union and Turkey with both sides saying this will not continue."
What is the main disagreement between the EU and Turkey?
"There are actually several problems," explained Okuyan. "Turkey claims that it fulfilled all of the conditions related to the refugee issue, but the EU side says that there are other issues traced to Turkey’s anti-terror law, but the Erdogan government adamantly refuses to change the law."
"To be brief, the anti-terror law has a very broad concept of the term terror," said Okuyan. "What I mean is that the government several years ago drastically increased the actions that qualify as terror, such that nearly all political actions are subject to accusations of terrorism, any political opposition whatsoever, and if you write an article you can be immediately accused of aiding or engaging in a terrorist act. In Turkey nobody knows if they will be accused of being a terrorist."
Can you describe the stipulations of the deal?
"The basic agreement was to pay Turkey roughly 3 billion euros to facilitate refugee camps, but the main issue was to stop sending refugees through the Greek Islands and Europe and, as a condition, the EU would take in select refugees from Turkey with high-level education and skills needed in Europe’s economy," said Okuyan.
"What this means is that Europe would decide on who enters the EU as a refugee and only accept people who cover the conditions to live in Europe, which means they are looking to pull cheap, educated labor for the European Union and leave the scraps for Turkey," said Okuyan.
The editor explained that the arrangement amounts to a gross violation of EU and international law, as the focus is on fulfilling Europe’s economic needs rather than addressing the human rights concerns of the refugees. Becker suggested that claims describing the deal between the EU and Erdogan’s administration as a form of legislated human trafficking are more indicative of the agreement’s true nature.