NATO: the savior of Turkey, Greece, EU and Schengen Agreement

NATO: the savior of Turkey, Greece, EU and Schengen Agreement

One of the most important results of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Ankara on Feb. 8 was the announcement of a Turkish-German initiative to request NATO to provide assistance to the Turkish and Greek coast guards in their fight against the illegal trafficking of migrants via the Aegean Sea. 

The request was brought to a NATO defense minister meeting on Feb. 11 by Turkey, Germany and Greece, which was immediately endorsed by the 28-member alliance. NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg said NATO ships will be deployed in the Aegean Sea without delay while some of allies have already announced their contribution. 

NATO warships are expected to be in the region nowadays as NATO’s top commander Gen. Philip Breedlove is working on a mission plan to help both countries counter human trafficking and criminal networks. The initial plan does not suggest interception by NATO warships but to provide information and intelligence for both sides’ coast guards about boats supposedly carrying illegal migrants to Greek islands. According to the Greek defense minister and other sources, illegal migrants who are rescued will be returned to Turkey. 

Believed to be proposed by Germany, letting NATO to step in the refugee problem would help resolve a great part of the tragedy. According to figures provided by the UNHCR, around 850,000 illegal migrants sought refuge in European countries via the Aegean Sea. In the first four weeks of 2016, this figure was up to 50,000 despite harsh winter conditions, sparking concerns that Turkey’s efforts to stem the flow of refugees failed to meet expectations. It’s estimated that more than one million people would try to reach the Schengen area in this year if no effective measures would be taken. 

That’s why NATO’s militarily engagement is so critical. In one way, NATO warships will seal the Turkish-Greek sea border and will be able to reduce the number of illegal migrants crossing the Aegean. 

Furthermore, Turkey and Greece are working for better implementation of a bilateral readmission agreement so that the Greek officials will be able to return illegal migrants to Turkey if it’s proven the immigrants have tried to enter Greece from Turkish territories. Turkish General Migration Management Director Atilla Toros conducted talks with his Greek counterparts on Feb.11 and Feb. 12 on how best coordinate the implementation of the readmission agreement. This meeting came as Greece opts to designate Turkey as “safe third country,” a necessary procedure for the efficient implementation of the readmission process. Given the fact that around only 50 percent of all migrants are Syrians, an efficient implementation of the readmission process will save Greece and the rest of Europe from a huge burden. 

As seen, these recent steps would yield unexpected results in containing the refugee issue between Turkey and the EU so that the action plan announced on Nov. 29, 2015, between two parties would be implemented. This requires EU countries’ announcement on how many Syrians they will accept through legal ways, providing financial assistance to Turkey, re-energizing accession process by opening chapters, implementation of the readmission agreement starting from early June in return to grant visa-free travel right to Turkish citizens by October. 

With concrete results to be taken in coming weeks as NATO warships will stop illegal human trafficking in the Aegean, Turkey will have the right to ask the EU to fulfill its aforementioned obligations under the Nov. 29 deal. And of course, the architect of this plan, German Chancellor Merkel should have convinced the Turkish leadership that the process will flow smoothly, without problems.        

NATO’s engagement comes at a very crucial moment as Turkey and EU countries will meet in Brussels on Feb. 18 and Feb. 19 to discuss the state of refugee problem and whether the action plan will work in the days ahead. 

After all, it seems NATO has taken the stage as the savior of the Turkey-EU deal, Greece and the Schengen Agreement.