German-Turkish cooperation on irregular migration a must

German-Turkish cooperation on irregular migration a must

Ebru Turhan
Turkey presents a unique case in Germany’s bilateral dialogue with third countries. As a result of heavily intertwined, multidimensional relations, dialogue between Germany and Turkey is typically marked by moments of conflict and tension followed by periods of intensive cooperation. A historical-structural continuity exists in Germany’s relations with Turkey. From a historical perspective, a precise rapprochement between the two countries has taken place at times when one or both parties have faced serious challenges in foreign policy, economy or security. 

By the looks of things, another major crisis will reshape the scope and content of the relations between Turkey and Germany in the coming months. The unprecedented and continuously increasing influx of refugees seeking safe haven in Europe at the expense of their lives have profound implications for both parties.  

According to the calculations of the International Organization for Migration, the number of refugees arriving on the Greek islands surged to 7,000 per day in October, with the average in late September having been 4,500 per day. Most people arriving in Greece move straight on to Germany. German officials state that nearly 10,000 refugees continue to arrive in Germany daily. According to the latest estimates, 1.1 million refugees are likely to arrive in Germany by the end of 2015. Germany’s unilateral waiving of its right to deport refugees back to the first EU member state they enter, accompanied by its economic strength, make it a top destination for Syrian refugees. 

While Germany has become the prime destination for refugees from the Middle East, Turkey’s strategic importance as a transit and destination country has increased since the onset of the Syrian war as well. Some migrants come to Turkey with the intention of passing into the EU. Others arrive in Turkey to start a new life on Turkish soil. The adoption of the new law on foreigners and international protection in 2013 brought Turkish asylum legislation closely in harmony with EU law. Due to the cultural, geographic and legislative advantages, more than 2 million Syrian refugees have taken shelter in various Turkish cities. 

Stronger German-Turkish cooperation on the management of irregular migration in Europe and its wider periphery seems to be necessary as both countries have become key actors in the accommodation of Syrian refugees and the management of the influx of migrants.

The need for closer dialogue between Germany and Turkey on irregular migration was also one of the most clear-cut outputs of the “Global Diplomacy Lab,” which recently convened in Berlin for the third time under the patronage of the German Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and with the support of Germany’s leading foundations. This year’s lab in Berlin brought together diplomats, representatives of civil society organizations, political scientists and activists from various countries with the aim of designing possible migration policies for the future. An idea that was developed during an innovative session was the establishment of a “German-Turkish Forum on Irregular Migration.” The forum would serve as a platform for German and Turkish civil society organizations, the business world, local governments, academicians and practitioners, and allow for a more in-depth exchange of experiences and approaches to the management of irregular migration beyond traditional intergovernmental debates. 

The inclusion of various actors from different sectors in the German-Turkish debate on the refugee crisis seems to be necessary in order to adopt long-term policies founded on inalienable and universal humanitarian principles. Recent statements of German and European officials offer Ankara a sudden acceleration of Turkey’s de facto frozen EU accession process in return for Turkey’s cooperation with the EU on the management of migration inflows to Europe. By linking two totally unrelated issues and seeking to build agreements with luscious side-payments, German and European leaders actually have fallen into the trap of looking for fast and short-term solutions simply to appease EU member states. The initiation of a German-Turkish forum on irregular migration can provide the political elite with a more holistic approach to migration management that would also take into account the preferences of Europe’s periphery and the inalienable rights of refugees. 

* Ebru Turhan is assistant professor at Turkish-German University and a research fellow at Istanbul Policy Center of Sabancı University.