Turkey-EU refugee deal works; eyes now on visa-free travel

Turkey-EU refugee deal works; eyes now on visa-free travel

A deal reached between Turkey and the European Union on March 18 in Brussels has begun implementation starting from April 4, as Greece deported hundreds of irregular immigrants to Turkey while Turkey shipped an almost equal number of Syrian refugees to some European countries last week.

Although there are still some problems in the way of a more efficient implementation on both sides, the agreement has proven to make clear to all potential irregular immigrants that using the Aegean route to reach to Europe is no longer possible.  

There has been a drastic decrease in the number of immigrants reaching the shores of Greek islands in the recent weeks. Turkey is about to complete the construction of temporary protection centers along its Aegean coast in order to fully abide by the international law in a bid to ease the concerns of human right groups. 

Scot-free implementation of the agreement will surely make the visit of some senior European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to Kilis, a southeastern Anatolian town on the Syrian border, on April 16 much more comfortable. 

For his part, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will be able to host Merkel and other European guests in this tiny village with his mind at peace. Davutoğlu and Merkel are expected to attend the ground-breaking ceremony of some facilities in Kilis to be erected with the funds provided by the EU for Syrian refugees. These activities will surely promote Kilis’, a city that hosts more refugees than its population, potential nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

This summary represents only one side of the coin. The other side, however, concerns Turkey’s expectation from the EU in return to stop the flow of refugees. The EU has announced that it will open chapter 33 on budgetary policies in June to show Turkey that accession process is continuing. 

However, granting Turkish citizens the right to visa-free travel in the Schengen area stands as a contentious issue. Turkey has to fulfill all 72 criteria before May 4 but it could accomplish only 43 of them so far, as Davutoğlu announced on April 8. The prime minister seemed to be sure that his government will be able to complete all of them in the next three weeks so that Turkish citizens will be able to go to Schengen countries without a visa starting late June. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s stance with regard to EU criteria is a little different from that of Davutoğlu. Erdoğan earlier had criticized EU for making the visa-liberalization process more difficult for Turkey by introducing these 72 criteria. On April 7, however, he used a more though language and threatened to stop the implementation of the refugee deal if Brussels did not fulfill its promises to Turkey.    

It’s no secret that Erdoğan is not very happy with the refugee agreement, as he thinks the government has accepted receiving refugees from Greece without securing visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. 

This is why the upcoming weeks for the government’s bid to fully meet necessary requirements are very, very important, not only because the fate of the refugee deal but also the future of Turkey-EU relations.

Ankara and Brussels should continue to work very hard and in full coordination for the continuation of this cooperation.