Important but deficient migration policy changes
At the Interior Ministry, work was underway for some time on two crucial issues: 1. To prepare the legal framework of taking over border security from the military; 2. To prepare the legal background for the creation of a “Migration Affairs Directorate.”
Though Turkey’s European Union accession process appears to have hit a formidable wall composed of Greek Cyprus, France and Germany – as well as some other countries hiding behind these three – Turkey is continuing to take steps to harmonize with EU rules. The draft pertaining to the transfer of border security from the military to a Border Security Directorate affiliated to the Interior Ministry will be presented to Parliament after all concerned parties conclude their evaluations on it. The draft on the creation of the Migration Affairs Directorate, which I want to focus on today, has already been submitted to Parliament by the government. These two steps, of course, aim to harmonize Turkey with the EU’s Integrated Border Management Strategy.
As is known by everyone dealing with Turkish-EU affairs, the visa problem, or migration issues, there is contention between Turkey and the EU over the reservation Turkey placed on the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees. In accordance with that reservation, Turkey does not accept refugees from the lands to its south, (that is, from the Middle East and beyond). When 500,000 Iraqi Kurds fled the tyranny of Saddam in Iraq in the early 1990s, or when some 25,000 Syrians escaped the civil war-like situation in their country, for Turkey they were “guests” or “asylum seekers” but not “refugees.” Thus, such “guests” or “asylum seekers” may be accorded the best possible treatment by Turkey, but not refugee status. Furthermore, Turkey does not accept the “right to return” and refuses to sign the related protocol, providing an alibi to Turkey skeptics in Europe who are opposed to waiving visa requirements for Turks.
Apart from creating a gigantic new directorate that will offer employment to some 3,500 people (some 400 to be employed outside Turkey), the draft allows the government to grant “guests” or “asylum seekers” long-time residence in the country, as well as free health services and free primary and secondary education for their children. The “guests” will be offered an “International Protection Card,” valid for six months with the potential to be renewed. The “guests” will also have the right to demand legal counseling, and those willing to travel back to their country of origin will be offered financial support.
Furthermore, those “guests” or “asylum seekers” who might stay in Turkey for a long period will be assisted with a monthly allowance for personal expenses, and would be legally employable in Turkey.
These are, of course, very important improvements to Turkey’s rather rigid migration policies as regards people migrating Turkey from the south and east. Yet, will these improvements be enough, or will they create some additional problems? Most likely we will have permanent towns for “guests” along our eastern borders, while the EU will still demand that Turkey lift the reservations from the charter on refugees.