On Sunday, 7 March 2016, the­ Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte – President of the European Council at the time – and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in Brussels. Die Welt editor Robin Alexander reconstructed their one-night sit-together at the office of the Turkish ambassador to the EU, Selim Yenel, in Brussels,[1] just hours before the decisive EU summit on the refugee crisis. These were ‘the most important hours of Merkel’s chancellorship,’ says Alexander.[2]

It was only on the plane to Brussels that Davutoğlu, who was soon to be sidelined by Erdoğan, set out the final conditions for the ‘EU-Turkey statement’. His country would ‘take any necessary measures to prevent […] illegal migration […] from Turkey to the EU,’ states point three.[3] Greece may, at the expense of the EU, return to Turkey all migrants who arrive on the Greek islands after 20 March 2016 and do not apply for asylum or whose applications are rejected. For each of these refugees, another refugee may leave Turkey and enter EU.

What appears to be an absurd cycle is the strategic centerpiece of the agreement: on one hand, the EU can claim to be keeping its doors open to refugees from Turkey. At the same time – just like Turkey – the EU is speculating that news will spread among the refugees that crossing the Aegean is not worth the risk. If you cross by boat, you gain nothing, but someone else will.

Officially, the paper is just a statement, not an international treaty – which is why a February 2017 appeal to the European Court of Human Rights by two Pakistanis and one Afghan was rejected stating that it lacked the jurisdiction to hear and determine the actions.[4]

The EU-Turkey statement continues: ‘Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU are ending or at least have been substantially and sustainably reduced, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated. EU Member States will contribute on a voluntary basis to this scheme.’ A figure for this ‘voluntary’ admission scheme is not stated. Alexander’s research showed that Merkel and Rutte promised to Davutoğlu orally, but with binding effect, to accept between 150,000 and 250,000 people annually.[5] Alexander claims that people attending the negotiations had confirmed this to him in person. Were this figure correct, it would exceed the number of people the UN refugee agency UNHCR is allowed to resettle annually from all crisis regions worldwide. For years, the UNHCR’s ‘resettlement program’ has aimed to permit refugees in special emergencies to leave for a safe country.

In 2016, for example, the UNHCR asked for 162,500 places but only got 125,600[6] worldwide. The EU-Turkey deal is subject to different standards than all other crises around the world. However, in the end the EU admitted far fewer people from Turkey. In the first two years after the agreement, i.e. from March 2016 to April 2010, only 12,476 Syrians were allowed to leave Turkey for the EU.[7] Another unfulfilled promise was visa-free travel for Turkish citizens, which the EU undertook to achieve until June 2016[8] and which was obviously not realistic within a four-month period. Unlike point six of the ‘Facility for Refugees’ in Turkey: two billion euros from Brussels, and one billion from the member states, were to be spent by the end of 2017, and perhaps the same amount again from 2018. This money is Europe’s commitment to refugees in Erdoğan’s empire.

The importance of the agreement is hard to overestate. Alexander and many others believe that it saved Merkel’s job as chancellor.[9] Some, such as Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar even think this applies to the EU as a whole, which would otherwise have disintegrated around the migration issue.[10] Critics such as Claudia Roth, Bundestag Vice-President for the Green Party, say that Europe has ‘lost its soul and sold out its values’ in this agreement.[11]

Many others think that the EU should also make similar deals with other countries to solve its refugee problem in the long run. As soon as the ink under the agreement with Erdoğan was dry, European politicians began echoing the idea. One of them being Merkel, who called for a similar agreement with Egypt at a meeting of the Balkan border states in Vienna in September 2016.[12] Germany’s Interior Minister de Maizière[13] and ­Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi[14] expressed similar views. In May 2017, Austria’s Federal Chancellor Christian Kern (SPÖ) traveled to Cairo to speak to military ruler Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi in this matter.[15]

Billions in aid to transit states for stopping and taking back refugees seems to be the future of Europe’s border policy. But is it really possible to replicate the EU-Turkey Statement? And what would be the consequences for refugees?

She lied to the Islamic State

The EU presents people like Sabha al-Mustafa from Raqqa as cases of Syrian refugees benefitting from EU payments. It is 4:49pm on 1 February 2017 when her golden smartphone gets a text message. ‘Your application was processed. You were classified as eligible,’ it says in Arabic. The next day, Ms. al-Mustafa picks up a red debit card at a branch of the state-owned Turkish Halkbank on Atatürk Street in downtown Urfa, southern Turkey. Soon she will be able to withdraw money – for the first time since reaching Turkey six months earlier.

Al-Mustafa talks about this in her apartment on the first floor of a house on the outskirts of Urfa. The ochre mountain range that separates war and peace looms in the background. Heading for the border, bombers of the Turkish army leave contrails in the ice-blue sky on their way to the Islamic State (IS).[16]

Al-Mustafa wears a turquoise coat and a black headscarf, her features are hardened. She is 42 years old. Her children are six, seven and eight. This age difference is unusual for a mother in a region where many women have children before reaching the legal age. But al-Mustafa studied and married late – to a carpenter who worked mostly in Saudi Arabia. Her apartment in Urfa has no furniture; there is a large cast-iron stove in the corner, but al-Mustafa has no fuel. Next to it there is a sewing machine. On top, a large cone of black yarn defies the icy air, underneath it hides one of the daughters.

On the other side of Urfa, the Turkish Red Crescent has rented a building. 400,000 Syrian refugees live here; more than in any other Turkish city besides Istanbul. Since December 2016, 240 different families have come here every day, strictly sorted by the districts in which they live. They apply for benefits from the EU’s Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) program, which is funded with money from the EU-Turkey deal.

In early January 2017, al-Mustafa went to the Red Crescent office. She sat down on a blue metal bench, and when the digital display showed her number, she received a 17-page questionnaire. Everyone here has to complete it. Those who cannot read have to ask their neighbors. Then al-Mustafa stepped to one of the counters in the neon-lit inner room. She showed the Syrian identity cards for herself and her children and handed in the questionnaire.

Al-Mustafa used a lie to get out of IS-controlled Raqqa in mid-2016. Her daughter needed glasses, she told the jihadis. Her daughter’s eyes are perfectly fine, but ‘we were looking for something that couldn’t be treated in Raqqa,’ says al Mustafa.

When she left, there were no more opticians in Raqqa and no more schools. Just Quran lessons at the mosque. ‘Brainwashing,’ says al-Mustafa, so she homeschooled her children. They never went to school in Syria. The food in Raqqa was running out under the siege. Before the IS, a loaf of bread cost 30 Syrian liras; in the end it was more than 100. There was no shortage of public executions, though. ‘I was able to keep my girls at home, but the boy had to watch them,’ says al-Mustafa.

On 20 June 2016, the IS let her take her two daughters and son to Damascus. Here they have opticians – and an agency that issues passports. Al-Mustafa had to promise the IS to come back. When she saw her husband for the last time, they fixed an old mosque in a village outside the city as a meeting point. In a week, once she would have the passports. He planned to leave the town in secret.

‘I worked for 23 years,’ says al-Mustafa. When she left Raqqa in 2016, Turkey closed most of the border. The smugglers asked around $2,000 to get her and the three children out of Syria. ‘All my savings and the jewelry I sold were just enough to pay this.’ Her group had eleven people; they were shot at twice. Only ten of them reached Turkey on 3 July 2016, after four days and three nights. ‘We didn’t even have luggage left,’ says al-Mustafa. When they arrived, in the sixth year of the war, Turkey’s refugee camps were beyond crowded. Those who did not get in had to find their own shelter.

Whenever refugees from Raqqa arrive in Urfa, al-Mustafa asks them about her husband. She hopes the IS did not kill him. But there is hardly anyone left to ask; the IS executed smugglers. Al-Mustafa feels she will never see her husband again. In December, al Mustafa says, she was about to give up. Her strength had run out. ‘I wanted to go back to Raqqa,’ she says, ‘at least there I have a house.’

A diplomatic insult

Sabha al-Mustafa’s story shows how refugees live in Turkey. There were 3.64 million Syrians registered in Turkey in January 2019.[17] There are several hundred thousand more from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Africa. No state in the world has taken in so many people. But their situation is dire.

Turkey has officially opened its labor market to the Syrians under pressure from the EU. In 2016 and 2017, the Ministry of Labour issued around 56,000 work permits to Syrians who found formal employment[18] – around 1.5 percent of Syrians living in the country. And not even one in ten Syrians (211,000)[19] has found shelter in one of the two dozen or so camps. Those who get in will be taken care of. The rest usually will not. Many face food insecurity,[20] only about two thirds of school-age children attended school in 2017.[21] The others usually go begging or work.

Aid organizations lack resources in all areas. For a long time, Europe did not feel responsible. This was also the main reason why so many Syrians came to Europe in 2015[22] – not because they felt ‘invited’ by Merkel. In October 2016, editors of the German weekly Zeit proved this by evaluating Google search queries.[23]

The crisis along the Balkan Route is what caused politicians to rethink. Europe paid Erdoğan to handle the refugees and got border security in return. Funds from Brussels have been flowing since late 2016. Erdoğan would prefer to see these funds on government accounts. After the attempted coup in July 2016, the lira lost almost half of its value against the euro.[24] Turkey’s creditworthiness fell from ‘stable’ to ‘negative,’[25] and by 2017, the foreign trade deficit stood at €77 billion.[26] The Turkish state needs foreign currency, but the Europeans are bypassing the government and decide where they spend their money. Turkey only has observer status in the council that decides about the allocation of funds from the Facility for Refugees in Turkey (FRT).

This is a diplomatic ploy to show Erdoğan he cannot get everything he wants. Hence, he repeatedly claimed the EU had not paid anything,[27] although this is not true. Under the deal with Erdoğan, the EU spent more money on emergency aid in Turkey in 2017/18 than in the rest of the world combined. A large part flowed into the ESSN. It is the largest program of its kind in the world. The key to it is an ordinary bank card issued by the state-owned Halkbank. The card bears the logo of the Red Crescent, which is implementing the project. In March 2017, Halkbank gave its ATMs an Arabic menu so that people like al-Mustafa could use it.

So far, only a few refugees have received ‘conditional cash’ cards for food or coal. Now the refugees are to receive cash payouts for two years. 1.6 million people received benefits in January 2019 – only about 44 percent of all Syrian refugees.[28] They are selected using computer questionnaires. An algorithm calculates their ‘vulnerability. The exact criteria are confidential. They payout is 120 Turkish liras per person, per month – about $22 – in a country where prices are only one third lower than in Germany.[29] However, there are special payouts, for example for clothing and heating costs or school supplies.

The EU’s budget would probably have permitted a little more, but the Turkish government had objections. Jane Lewis, office manager of the EU Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG-ECHO) in Turkey, said in February 2017 that more money for the Syrians could provoke protests from poor Turks feeling left behind. As it is, their payouts are not enough to live off of.

The card system clearly brings more independence for refugees. Unlike in other countries, they are not tied to distribution points at camps and can move freely within Turkey, since the card works at any ATM. They do not get bags of rice and flour, but they can decide what to buy and compare prices. The ESSN’s administrative overhead is reportedly 15 percent of the budget – a historically low figure for such aid programs. The money is paid out and managed centrally. Were other donors to join, the aid payments could easily be increased.

However, the computer-aided system also works the other way around – to refuse benefits to refugees. The ESSN automatically compares data with Turkish government agencies. Should a refugee get a social security number after finding a job, all benefit payments stop immediately. Data from the Ministry of Education is also used: If schools report that children of a refugee family attend less than 80 percent of classes, any extra payments are cancelled automatically. The autonomy offered by the bank card comes at the price of a technological regime over which the benefactors have no influence. Text messages notify the refugees of any changes. Those feeling wronged by the vulnerability algorithm or the databases can call 168 free of charge, the Turkish Red Crescent’s special Arabic hotline.

Almost two million Syrian refugees get nothing at all. This is the social reality of the EU-Turkey Deal.

In early February 2017, after receiving the text message on her smartphone, al-Mustafa picked up the red card at a Halkbank branch on Atatürk Street in downtown Urfa. Another message informed her the first payout would arrive towards the end of the month: 400 liras, around $75. What would she buy? ‘Nothing,’ says al-Mustafa, adding she would be glad to cover the rent.

Most don’t speak Turkish

The ESSN is not enough. Syrian children are entitled to schooling, and Turkey would have to provide about 1.2 million additional places.[30] Syrians can be treated in state hospitals, so the Turkish health system has to cope with 3.6 million additional patients. Turkey’s ministries of health and education receive more than €600 million from the EU for this – a smaller share of the European money also goes directly to the Turkish state.

One of the biggest problems is that most Syrian patients do not speak Turkish. Millions more therefore flow into the retraining of Syrian doctors. The World Health Organization (WHO) has counted around 1,000 of them among the refugees. Rules for foreign doctors seeking a license in Turkey are strict. The Syrians have a ‘simplified procedure,’[31] says Mustafa Bahadır Sukacı of the WHO.

On a morning in February 2017, around 20 of these Syrian doctors are sitting in the ballroom of the Dedeman Hotel in Urfa. Weddings are usually celebrated here; today, a WHO lecturer stands in front of a screen. The organization has rented the hotel for a seminar. Doctors and nurses sit between golden columns at tables decked in white and listen to her talking about kidney stones, like a school class. The lecturer’s laser pointer jumps back and forth between the words for ‘bladder’ and ‘urethra.’ Everyone in the room knows what kidney stones are, but they have to learn the Turkish terms. The training measure lasts six weeks. One of the participants is Majid al-Muhammad, a stocky pediatrician with a wool sweater and a crew cut. The 42-year-old Syrian left his hometown of Homs in 2012. Together with his family he has since been living in Kökenli, a container city for 16,000 people in the Harran district, right next to the Syrian border. He keeps in touch with Homs via Facebook. ‘Language is the hardest thing to learn when you want to work as a doctor here,’ says al-Muhammad. His training ends in February, after which he wants to work at the new health centers for his fellow Syrians. The government pays $750 to the Syrian doctors there. ‘We will not forget Syria, but if we can, we will stay here,’[32] he says.

So the EU-Turkey deal helped people like Sabha al-Mustafa to survive and people like Majid al-Muhammad to find a job. But for millions more, the deal closed off their escape route from the war. Just when Turkey signed the pact with the EU, it began closing off the 566-mile-long border to Syria which al-Mustafa crossed. Construction was completed in March 2017. Today, the border is fortified.[33] The cost is estimated at €2 billion. The fortifications consist of fences and mobile concrete blocks weighing seven tons, topped off with NATO wire, ten feet high, over six feet wide, with radar and drone surveillance. Private security contractors guard the fence. In May 2016, the Turkish Ministry of National Defence announced that the Turkish armaments company Aselsan had won the contract to erect ‘smart watchtowers that warn and fire automatically’ to ‘prevent illegal crossing.’[34] In other words, booby traps. There were no independent sources to confirm this until May 2017, since journalists are not allowed to enter the zone.

Human Rights Watch has documented that Turkish security forces have intercepted thousands of asylum seekers at the Turkish-Syrian border on several occasions since December 2017 and deported them to the war-ravaged Idlib Governorate.[35] Turkish border patrols have fired on asylum seekers trying to enter Turkey on smuggling routes and killed or injured them. Furthermore, HRW reports that Syrians who had arrived in the Turkish city of Antakya, 19 miles from the Syrian border, were deported to Idlib.

It was not the open borders

The deal also affected the refugees who went to Greece nevertheless. The EU likes to mention that after the deal, the number of deaths in the Aegean Sea and arrivals in Greece fell sharply. It is true that 1,082 people drowned in the Eastern Mediterranean in the seven months preceding the deal’s starting date and 58 in the seven months thereafter.[36] The numbers of arrivals developed similarly: 154,000 people reached Greece in the first quarter of 2016, before the EU-Turkey deal. After that, the number dropped to around 10,000 per quarter. But most of this decline took place long before the agreement. In the last quarter of 2015 – with the deal not yet in sight – 483,000 refugees had arrived in Greece. Hence, the lion’s share of the drop must have other causes than the bargain between Merkel, Rutte and Davutoğlu.

In fact, most of the refugees who wanted to leave Turkey had already done so by 2015. They did not come to Europe then because the borders were open – they were not – but because the aid system in Turkey collapsed. Aid organizations had only $0.50 per day for food rations. Those who stayed had reasons: a job, old age, illness, children, no money for smugglers, no contacts in Europe, needing to stay close to Syria. The Turkish army’s crackdown on migrant smugglers after the EU-Turkey deal was one factor that reduced arrivals in Greece, but by no means the only one.

After the deal, from March 2016 throught at least the end of 2018, an average of about 30,000 people came to Greece by sea.[37] They are stuck under mostly miserable conditions on the Aegean islands. Greece denies most of them entry to the mainland, so they have to stay in overcrowded camps. The EU has set up registration centers called ‘hotspots,’ which are not accessible to the media. Amnesty International criticizes human rights violations there.[38] In March 2017, photos appear from inside the hotspot on the island of Chios. They show cages fit for animals.[39] After inmate protests in September 2016, a fire breaks out at the Moria internment camp on Lesbos. In April 2017, Kurdish Syrians go on hunger strike after being stuck there for eight months. Thousands spend the winters in tents, enduring snow and icy rain; some freeze to death.[40] ‘They pay the price for Europe’s cynicism and the disgraceful deal with Turkey,’[41] says Clement Perrin of Doctors Without Borders. The EU accuses Greece of producing these terrible images on purpose, for example, by not claiming over €100 million in disposable aid. Behind closed doors, people say that Greece still felt abandoned and wanted to build pressure.

In 2018 about 14,500 people waited on the Aegean islands, but the five hotspots only have room for 6,483. UNHCR members saw snakes and rats in Moria. ‘Sewage and feces flow openly through the camp,’ states their report.[42] Kumi Naidoo, General Secretary of Amnesty International, reported after a visit to Moria: ‘What I witnessed was quite simply shocking.’ He recalled the ‘hardship and horror experienced on a daily basis by people who are already traumatized.’ What particularly alarmed him was the fear of sexual harassment and violence expressed by many women in the camp.[43]

‘To Europe by bus’

As is well known, Turkey’s citizens never got visa-free entry into in the EU. Yet, despite the diplomatic alienation after the coup, despite all rhetorical extortion – Erdoğan threatened to send the refugees ‘to Europe by bus,’[44] – Turkey honored its part of the deal. The police and the military cracked down on smugglers; migrant smuggling might be punishable as ‘terrorism’ in the future.[45] Frontex sent a liaison officer to Ankara; a law was drafted so Frontex can operate on Turkish territory. [46] Whether this will happen is still open, however.

In Dikili and other cities, closed deportation camps called ‘pre-removal centers’ were set up for deportees from Greece – with EU funding under the so-called Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) for countries wishing to join the EU. Today there are 19 deportation camps with 6,810 places in Turkey. By the end of 2017, the internment centers are supposed to hold 17,130 inmates.[47]

However, the Greek asylum authority had doubts about Turkey being a ‘safe third country’ and thereby crossed the EU’s plans. Nevertheless, 1,766 people were sent back to Turkey under the EU-Turkey Statement, including 337 Syrians.[48]

The deal also affects many people in Turkey who are not even refugees. The attempted coup of July 2016 accelerated the President’s transformation of Turkey into a theocratic state. First, he waged war against the Kurds in the southeast of his own country, then from 2018, he engaged them in Northern Syria. Nobody knows how many people the Turkish army and its collaborating Islamist militias are killing. Kurdish organizations face severe repression. By the end of May 2017, the pro-Kurdish HDP (Halkların Demokratik Partısı) states, around 5,000 of its members, including 11 members of parliament, 218 local politicians and 750 municipal officials, were in prison, 18 of them facing life sentences.[49] After the July coup, over 150 journalists were arrested, 150 media outlets closed and more than 700 press passes revoked.[50] The West’s criticism was half-hearted, unlike its supply of arms to Turkey.

This is the status quo of the EU-Turkey deal. Can it be copied in other countries, as European interior ministers would like to do? Or does it result from a unique mix of interests that cannot be reproduced?

The Merkel Plan

The general opinion is that the EU-Turkey deal is the brainchild of a small, private think tank – the European Stability Initiative (ESI). Its director, Austrian Gerald Knaus, is seen as the father of the agreement. Knaus posted a paper titled ‘Why people don’t need to drown in the Agean’[51] on the ESI website on 17 September 2015, just a few days after the opening of the Balkan route. It suggested that Germany should allow in 500,000 Syrian migrants directly from Turkey. In return, Greece should send all refugees coming across the Aegean back to Turkey. Then, Knaus imagined, no one would risk the dangerous crossing any more. It was the basic premise of the EU-Turkey deal. Two weeks later, Knaus published a revised version titled: ‘The Merkel Plan – A proposal for the Syrian refugee crisis.’[52]

In the following months, Knaus became one of the prime political advisors to the EU, even though it was Turkish Prime Minister Davutoğlu who ultimately devised the details of the deal. One year later, in June 2017, Knaus is in high demand once more. For weeks, he commutes between European capitals, visits high-ranking member state and EU officials, even the campaign team of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. He is hard to get hold of. ‘I spent the whole last week in Italy,’ he says. Or Brussels. Or Malta. Or Estonia. Knaus wants to use every chance to promote his idea. He published another paper proposing a solution to the EU’s refugee problem. And Knaus is not surprised that the EU negotiated over a year in vain with the countries south of the Mediterranean.

His latest proposal is called the Rome Plan. It states what Knaus thinks the EU should do in order to replicate the Turkey deal with African states. ‘Those politicians who want to translate the so-called Turkey Statement to other countries often have not understood its core meaning,’ he says. Knaus sees two things at its center. On one hand, everyone who arrives must get an asylum procedure. ‘A person may not be sent back until a decision has been made that they need no protection in the EU.’ However, he adds, this would comply with the Refugee Convention only if it is possible to check what happens to the person after deportation. ‘So it is clear that no one can be sent back to Libya.’

The EU, of course, sees things differently. And Greece, in turn, was not convinced that Turkey was ‘safe’ – and still was supposed to send refugees back there.

80 people a month, at most

Knaus’ second principle is that it must be in the self-interest of the readmitting countries to take back those needing no protection in the EU. just like Turkey. ‘In March 2016, Turkish politicians found it was in their own interest to stop the dying along the coast and on top receive six billion euros to support Syrian refugees in their country.’ The money alone did not convince Davutoğlu’s advisors, says Knaus. Another decisive factor was the expectation that declaring a cut-off date – 20 March 2016 – after which Turkey would take back people immediately, would ‘dramatically’ reduce the number of boats. Hence Turkey would actually have to take back fewer people than expected.

‘Davutoğlu and his negotiators assumed that only a few people would be sent back in the end – in fact, from March 2016 until today, it has been fewer than 80 people a month. In return, no more corpses would wash up on the Turkish coast, and Turkey would cease to serve as a transit country for hundreds of thousands from Central Asia,’ says Knaus in June 2017. However, the number increases from autumn onwards. ‘This gives Ankara a vested interest in having the agreement stay in force. And that’s what happened.’

For him, the deal’s functional core is to deter migrants by making them risk being sent back to Turkey after crossing the Aegean. This reduced their incentive to step on a boat and also guaranteed that the number of readmissions to Turkey would stay manageable. Knaus sees the dramatic drop in crossings – less than 50 a day in the first half of 2017, the lowest number in years – as proof of his thesis. However, this number also rose again in autumn 2017.

He ignores other factors: the blockade of the Aegean Sea by the Turkish army and NATO, for example. Or that the number of crossings had started falling sharply earlier. And that, on average, 1,500 people still crossed the Aegean Sea every month, and there were only 80 deportations a month, only because the Greeks were unwilling to send anyone back to increasingly dictatorial Turkey.


Although the EU-Turkey Statement is a partnership with a transit country, Knaus is against repeating the deal with North African states. ‘Libya is not Turkey. There are good reasons why sending people back to Turkey is difficult. With Libya, it’s impossible. No Nigerian rescued from Libya can be sent back. And no other country in North Africa has an interest in taking back rejected asylum seekers from Europe. The idea of running reception centers and asylum procedures in Libya is also absurd. Right now, European countries don’t even dare open embassies in Tripoli.’ Therefore, he pleads against agreements with transit countries like Libya and Niger and for making deals with the major West African source countries.

They should have to immediately take back all their citizens who arrive in Europe after a fixed cut-off date and whose asylum claims are denied. ‘This requires the realism to admit that most of those who came before the cut-off date can’t be sent back,’ says Knaus. This is difficult to concede for EU governments. ‘But it’s obvious that no EU country is in a position to send back thousands of citizens against the will of their source countries. As far as Africa is concerned, France sent back the most people to Algeria in 2016: exactly 1,105. Italy sent the most to Tunisia: 1,110. But last year, 38,000 people came to Italy from Nigeria alone, and only 165 went back. ‘If you try to get Nigeria to suddenly take back 10,000 people, you won’t get anything in the end. No source country will play along,’ says Knaus.

For readmissions to work, the EU should ‘offer something truly attractive’ to countries of origin like Nigeria, especially options for safe and legal migration. The promise of ‘mobility partnerships’ appears in many EU declarations on Africa, but never materializes. Knaus imagines ‘several thousand work visas and several thousand scholarships per year’ for each partner country. Were Nigeria to take back all its rejected citizens after a cut-off date, Knaus believes this would ‘save lives, take away the smugglers’ business model and reduce the number of illegal arrivals.’ It would give countries a vested interest in cooperating. Here he sees the precise failure of the EU’s current diplomacy. ‘We offer nothing concrete to the countries of origin, and hope that they’ll cooperate anyway. That seems arrogant, as if you were trying to cheat them,’ says Knaus. Instead, the EU relied almost exclusively on Libya, making itself dependent on a country in civil war without functioning institutions.

  1. Alexander, R. (2017) Die Getriebenen. Merkel und die Flüchtlingspolitik: Report aus dem Inneren der Macht, Munich, 2017
  2. Ibid.
  3. EU Council (2016) EU-Turkey statement, 18 March | http://bit.ly/1VjZvOD
  4. General Court of the European Union (2017) ‘Press Release No. 19/17’, 28 February | http://bit.ly/2E4ofIM
  5. Alexander, R. (2017) Die Getriebenen. Merkel und die Flüchtlingspolitik: Report aus dem Inneren der Macht, Munich, 2017
  6. UNHCR ‘Resettlement’ | http://bit.ly/2izX65W
  7. European Commission (2019)  ‘European Agenda on Migration – Factsheets’, 11 February | https://bit.ly/2p7dtd5
  8. EU Council (2016) EU-Turkey statement, 18 March | http://bit.ly/1VjZvOD
  9. Die Welt (2016) ‘Vizekanzler Erdogan’, 17 April | http://bit.ly/2uR0LjX
  10. Die Welt (2016) ‘Beim nächsten Flüchtlingsstrom bricht ein Konflikt aus’, 6 September | http://bit.ly/2tXeFE5
  11. Die Welt (2016) ‘Europa hat seine Werte verschachert’, 29 March | http://bit.ly/2uR0vS9
  12. Die Zeit (2016) ‘EU lehnt weitere Verträge nach Vorbild des Türkei-Deals ab’, 8 October | http://bit.ly/2dUwGM5
  13. Die Zeit (2016) ‘De Maizière will Türkei-Deal in Nordafrika kopieren’, 5 April | http://bit.ly/1S02lc8
  14. Spiegel Online (2016) ‘Renzi schlägt Flüchtlingsdeal mit Afrika vor’, 18 April | http://bit.ly/2vfGZB4
  15. Kurier (2017) ‘Kern lotet in Ägypten Flüchtlingsdeal aus’, 24 May | http://bit.ly/2weKkxq
  16. Personal interview with Sabha al Mustafa, Urfa, 16 March 2017
  17. UNHCR Operational Portal (2019) 12 February | https://bit.ly/2Br8P1R
  18. Cagaptay, S. and Yalkin, M. (2018) Syrian Refugees in Turkey, The Washington Institute, 22 August | https://bit.ly/2NusKhT
  19. UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response | http://bit.ly/1z0szMq
  20. Ibid.
  21. World Food Programme (2016) Off-Camp Syrian Refugees in Turkey. A Food Security Report, April 2016 | http://bit.ly/23AXDn4
  22. Asylum Information Database (AIDA) (2019) Access to education, 14 February 2019 | http://bit.ly/2X2sL1S
  23. Zeit (2016) ‘Merkel war es wirklich nicht’, 11 October | http://bit.ly/2dTzszE
  24. XE exchange rates| http://bit.ly/2f2Ahs7
  25. Trading Economics ‘Turkey. Credit Rating’ | http://bit.ly/2tStTWL
  26. Statista (2019) 'Türkei: Handelsbilanzsaldo von 2007 bis 2017', 14 February | https://bit.ly/2GIQzSw
  27. Bayrischer Rundfunk (2016) ‘Erdoğan: “EU hat ihr Wort gebrochen”’, 25 July | http://bit.ly/2uP28S0
  28. UNHCR Operational Portal (2019) ‘ESSN Task Force Turkey’, 14 February | https://bit.ly/2TQcAm6
  29. Trading Economics (2019) ‘Turkey. Inflation’, 14 February | http://bit.ly/2ue5s5u
  30. Asylum Information Database (AIDA) (2019) Access to education, 14 February | http://bit.ly/2X2sL1S
  31. Personal interview, Urfa, 15 February 2017
  32. Asylum Information Database (AIDA) (2019) Access to education, 14 February | http://bit.ly/2X2sL1S
  33. Migration Control Database, ‘Turkey Country Report’, tageszeitung | https://bit.ly/2G5bY8a
  34. Yeni Şafak (2016) ‘Turkey to establish smart towers on Syrian border’, 5 April | https://bit.ly/2Gq5eCK
  35. Human Rights Watch (2018) ‘Turkey: Mass Deportations of Syrians’, 22 March | https://bit.ly/2IFZjr8
  36. International Organization for Migration ‘Missing Migrants Project’ | http://bit.ly/2fQfnJ1
  37. UNHCR (2019) ‘Sea arrivals by day’, 14 February | https://bit.ly/2roctD6
  38. Amnesty International (2016) ‘Hotspot Italy – How EU’s flagship approach leads to violations of refugee and migrants rights’, October 2016 | http://bit.ly/2eCgnTE
  39. Vice Denmark (2017) ‘Er det her seriøst et bur fyldt med flygtninge?’, 22 March | http://bit.ly/2f28yYu
  40. SWR Aktuell (2017) ‘Flüchtling in Griechenland erfroren’, 16 January | http://bit.ly/2vZBWT4
  41. ‘Doctors Without Borders: “Von Europa ausgeschlossen”’, Press release, 9 January 2017 | http://bit.ly/2hiky8L
  42. Höhler, Gerd (2019) 'Flüchtlinge in der Hölle von Moria', 2 January | https://bit.ly/2SDpAPt
  43. ‘Open Letter Following Visit of Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International to Lesvos Island and Moria Refugee Camp,’ Amnesty International, 22 November 2018 | http://bit.ly/2Ewv056
  44. Der Westen (2016) ‘Präsident Erdoğan droht Europa mit einer Flüchtlingswelle’, 25 November | http://bit.ly/2vclAc4
  45. Süddeutsche Zeitung (2016) ‘Türkei will Schlepper als Terroristen verfolgen’,  2 February | http://bit.ly/1PRW9BS
  46. Migration Control Database, ‘Turkey Country Report’, tageszeitung | https://bit.ly/2G5bY8a
  47. Ibid.
  48. EU Commission (2017) ‘Operational implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement’, 26 May | http://bit.ly/2jjPFQr
  49. Ibid.
  50. Demir, Hayri (2017) 'Zeit, sich für den Frieden einzusetzen', tageszeitung, 22 May 2017 | http://bit.ly/2vcwFdm
  51. Reporter ohne Grenzen ‘Türkei’ | http://bit.ly/1A5T8Cf
  52. European Stability Initiative (2015) ‘The Merkel Plan – A proposal for the Syrian refugee crisis’, 4 October | http://bit.ly/1Wl4rnD


Dictators as Gatekeepers for Europe Copyright © 2019 by Christoph Links Verlag GmbH. All Rights Reserved.

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