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By: Mattie C. Webb

On March 7th, the European Union endorsed a deal between Germany and Turkey that was crafted in a concerted effort to deal with the mass movement of migrants into Europe. The deal reached a “unanimous” agreement on March 18th. En route to curbing the crisis, the deal serves to dismantle the work of smugglers, encourage Turkey to work toward democratic principles, and free the EU from its migrant burden. However, the agreement’s practical inefficiencies are momentous and its adherence to human rights principles is grim. However, Europe has yet to broker a better solution.

Dismantling the business model of people smugglers is the first objective. According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 320 people have drowned in the Aegean in 2016. To combat this danger, migrants arriving by sea will now automatically be sent back to Turkey. In exchange for each migrant returned, another will be able to properly process his or her asylum request and hence enter the EU through an official resettlement scheme.

In return, the EU may provide visa-free travel within the Schengen area for Turkish citizens. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the agreement marks a “historic” day. He further added that “we today realized that Turkey and the EU have the same destiny, the same challenges and the same future.” There is no guarantee the Turkey EU bid will be accelerated.

An EU source reported that 72,000 Syrian migrants living in Turkey would be settled in the EU under the agreement. Currently, many are now stuck in Greece as their route north has been blocked. With mounting criticism on the EU to react to the migrant crisis and a subsequent rise in extreme right-wing parties feeding off of anti-migrant rhetoric and purported fears, this solution does serve to remove some of the burden that is strangling Europe.

On the other hand, this deal raises human rights concerns and questions the democratic principles underlying the EU. For one, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has continued to elicit authoritarian tendencies. This includes his continued push to undermine the independence of Turkey’s media, particularly that in opposition to his rule. For this reason, the agreement may undermine the legitimacy of the EU, given its efforts to reward Turkey for its slide to authoritarianism. The deal also raises questions regarding human rights and the 1951 Refugee Convention. Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency, noted that he was “deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law.” Amnesty International’s Kate Allen rejected the deal, adding that March 18 “is a dark day for the Refugee Convention, a dark day for Europe and a dark day for humanity.”

What do you think of this solution? Is it a violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Turkey is not a signatory? Does it point to and encourage further breaches in human rights principles? Or, would the inability to act, in the midst of immense refugee overflow in Greece and continued people-smuggling, be worse? In retrospect, although this deal is portrayed as a win-win, it may in fact be a lose-lose for both Turkey and the EU.

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