Reducing Europe's Migrant Burden

3 MINS READJun 10, 2016 | 15:27 GMT
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Reducing Europe's Migrant Burden

As conflict throughout the Middle East and North Africa continues unabated, the influx of migrants from the war-torn region is putting more and more strain on Europe. Hoping to lighten its load, the European Union has turned to Turkey for help. According to the tentative deal struck between the two on March 18, Brussels will give Ankara an extra $3 billion in aid, accelerate its EU membership talks and ease visa restrictions for Turkish citizens by the end of June. In return, Ankara has agreed to keep migrants from passing through its borders and into the Continent and to take back any migrants who traveled to Europe after the deal's implementation on March 20. Finally, to discourage illegal immigration from Syria, the parties have worked out a system whereby the European Union will resettle one legal Syrian refugee from Turkey for each Syrian non-refugee deported from Greece.

Since the initial deal was implemented, migrant flows from Turkey to Europe have markedly declined. Now, only hundreds — rather than thousands — of migrants reach Greek shores each day, a testament to the agreement's success. Given the time of year, the dwindling numbers are all the more notable. Normally, the spring season marks the start of an uptick in migrant flows as travelers take advantage of the warmer weather and more clement conditions to venture across the Aegean Sea. Growing insecurity and food shortages in Syria and Iraq, moreover, should sustain or even increase the number of asylum seekers currently heading to Europe. And yet the number is falling.

Over the past few months, Turkish authorities have been cracking down on the human smuggling rings that help migrants across the Aegean. In addition, there have been reports that the Turkish coast guard has stopped migrants from leaving the country. Regardless of how effective these measures are in practice, they have increased the perception among would-be migrants that the Turkey-EU deal is being actively enforced. This alone may be enough to dissuade migrants from assuming the risks and costs of going to Greece, only to be sent back to Turkey. 

Yet despite the deal's initial success, its future is anything but certain. The agreement has not been finalized, and a number of unresolved problems still stand in its way. Negotiations have not been helped by the fact that Ankara's need for the deal is far less pressing than Brussels', a distinct disadvantage for Europe. As the warm summer months approach, threatening to bring more migrants to Europe's doorstep in droves, the Continent will have little choice but to bend on some of its demands to cement the deal with Turkey.

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