A “High Shiny Visa Deal” at the Wrong Time
On the occasion of the kick-off of Mercator Dialogue on Asylum and Migration (MEDAM), the political scientist and GES session organizer
Dr. Diğdem Soyaltın (Istanbul Gelisim University) visited the Kiel Institute for the World Economy to give insights into the current situation of refugees in Turkey. We had the chance to ask her on the EU-Turkey deal and why the Visa issue is so important for Turkey.
The GES blog: How is the current refugee situation in Turkey?
Digdem Soyaltin: You cannot ignore the refugee crisis; it is part of the daily life in Istanbul. About 3,1 million Syrian refugees have come to Turkey thus far. There are 25 camps, where about 270.000 refugees from Syria live. That is quite costly for the Turkish government, but it is by far not enough. Most of the refugees – about 90 percent – live outside of camps within the main population. Especially this triggers resentments among the locals. The huge number of refugees working in the informal sector without paying taxes puts pressure on the social security system and therefore pressure on politics to do something. There are more than 100.000 children born in the camps – people build a life there, they start families. This shows the topic will remain on the agenda for years to come.
On the upside: people from the Syrian business sector also came to Turkey enabling more trade in the region. And there are formal jobs for Turkish people in NGOs and INGOs caring for refugees in the camps. Additionally the cultural background is quite similar in Turkey and Syria. Thus in daily life there are not too many, too major conflicts.
The GES blog: Did the EU-Deal change it? In what way?
Digdem Soyaltin: The impact is low. Until now only 177 have found new homes in the EU, 723 are waiting. About 8500 thought they were covered by the deal. The EU announced that the maximum number they can afford to take is 12.000 Syrian refugees – this is already a far lower number than Turkey was expecting. In my opinion it gives even more room for illegal trafficking. The latter has become quite a business in big cities like Istanbul. Every refugee pays about 3000 to 6000 Dollars for any way into the EU. As reported by international media, life jackets, for example, are sewn in factories in Istanbul and Izmir, often even by the refugees themselves – men, women and children.
You said in your speech, the EU offered Turkey “a high shiny Visa Deal” at the wrong time. What did you mean by that?
Offering this Visa Deal at a time when the Turkish government is making steps backwards in terms of liberal democracy was definitely the wrong signal. It showed the EU is giving up its standards just to seal the refugee deal. It will create even more problems in a near future. The Turkish population is disappointed in the EU, the support shrank from 70 percent to only 20-30 percent in recent time. At the same time this gives more support to the current Turkish government.
The GES blog: Why is this Visa Deal so important?
Digdem Soyaltin: The Visa Deal is a key component for Turkey and the main thing Turkey expects from the EU. At the moment the deal is frozen until the first of July, because both sides are stuck. The EU expects Turkey to change the anti-terror-laws – which the government won’t do due to the ongoing armed struggle with the PKK (listed as a terrorist organization by the EU and US) in the South East Anatolia. Turkey demands the cancelation of a visa requirement for the EU by the end of June. However, the resignation of the Hansjoerg Haber, the EU’s top envoy to Turkey, is a sign that Brussels having difficulties to keep on track the visa deal.
The whole deal is closely connected to the EU reform process that was started in 1999 when Turkey became candidate country. Nine harmonization packages, e.g. covering death penalty or fundamental rights and freedoms, were agreed on – actually Turkey made significant amendments in its constitution in line with the EU rules and norms. But since the EU membership process stalled in 2006 the democratization was also deteriorated. In this regard, the government’s proposal for Turkish style presidentialism is argued to further impair democratic consolidation in the country. However, it seems like such a proposal comes before the EU visa agreement on the agenda of the Turkish government.
The GES blog: Can you imagine a better approach for a working relationship between Turkey and the EU?
Digdem Soyaltin: Searching for legal possibilities to allow refugees to enter the EU and stop illegal trafficking and its surrounding business is definitely the way to go. And both the EU and Turkey have to play a crucial part in it. But the EU demanded 72 conditions of Turkey for the deal to be sealed and Turkey on paper fulfilled in a very short time 67 of them. However, the implementation process is the key for the success of EU-Turkey visa deal. The EU should more closely monitor the implementation process before taking steps with regard to visa liberalization for Turkey. On the other hand there is immense pressure on everybody to do something quick about the huge number of refugees. Right now it is nearly impossible to say what will happen next.