Turkey threatens to scrap refugee deal over Kurdish role in Syria peace talks

Turkey threatens to scrap refugee deal over Kurdish role in Syria peace talks
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May and her Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim on the steps of 10 Downing Street in central London ahead of their meeting. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2017

Turkey threatens to scrap refugee deal over Kurdish role in Syria peace talks

Turkey threatens to scrap refugee deal over Kurdish role in Syria peace talks

ANKARA: Turkish Premier Binali Yildirim warned on Monday that Turkey could scrap its 2013 refugee deal with the EU if Syrian Kurdish militias are allowed to participate in Syria peace talks.
Speaking after a meeting with his British counterpart Theresa May in London, Yildirim’s comments came one day before the start of the sixth round of United Nations-sponsored talks in Geneva to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
Ankara is firmly opposed to the presence of the Syrian Kurdish groups the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) at the negotiation table as it considers them closely linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terror group which has been waging a bloody insurgency in Turkey for more than three decades.
Turkey currently hosts about 3.5 million refugees from neighboring Syria — the most of any country worldwide — and takes strict measures to prevent refugees from heading to Europe illegally through Turkish territory.
In return, the EU promised to grant Turkish nationals visa-free travel throughout the union, and offered a 6-billion-Euro aid package for refugees staying in Turkey. As of November 2017, the EU has initiated 55 projects with a total worth of over 1.78 billion Euros, of which 908 million have been distributed.
Yildirim denounced the 2013 deal as a “big lie,” saying the EU failed to keep its promise to grant visa-free travel to Turks and posited a hypothetical situation should Turkey renege on its part of the deal to prevent the refugees’ transit to Europe.
“We neutralized thousands of Daesh fighters and we are currently welcoming 3.5 million refugees in Turkey,” he said. “What happens if we tell them: ‘Here’s Europe, off you go.’ Can you imagine what would happen? Of course ... it is not something we will do,” he added.
It is not the first time that Turkey has threatened to scrap the refugee deal. During a diplomatic crisis when tensions ran high with Germany and Netherlands, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that Turkey might cancel the migrant deal.
Ayselin Yildiz, UNESCO Chair on International Migration at Izmir’s Yasar University, believes migration issues should not be used as political bargaining chips.
“The main problem is about issues of border management, the readmission agreement, financial assistance, the fight against terrorism, and visa liberalization, which are all intermingled and set as a single package,” Yildiz told Arab News. “This type of conditionality blocks channels of further possible cooperation.”
However, Yildiz said that the current refugee deal — which she stressed was unethical and not in line with international law — may not have been as successful as Yildirim suggested in decreasing the crossings from Turkey to Europe. Instead, she claimed, it had simply forced refugees to take bigger risks to reach the EU.
“Our latest reports on the decision-making processes of migrants show that, after this deal, routes were diverted, modes of transport changed and — more crucially — stranded migrants and refugees were left in the hands of smugglers and human traffickers,” she said.
Aylin Noi, senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University SAIS — Center for Transatlantic Relations, said Ankara has repeatedly voiced its concerns about the inclusion of the PYD in negotiations about Syria’s post-Daesh reconstruction.
“Ankara argues that the presence of Kurdish separatists at the negotiation table goes against its priority of preserving Syrian territorial integrity, and that it could trigger a domino effect in the region,” Noi told Arab News.
“Following Ankara’s diplomatic maneuvers, Russia postponed the Syrian National Dialogue Congress until February 2018 because of disagreements over the participation of Syrian Kurds. Time will tell how Europe (stands) on this issue, and that will inevitably shape the implementation of EU-Turkey refugee deal in the near future,” she added.
The European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos told Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News on Monday that “the EU is committed to fulfilling all elements of the EU-Turkey migration deal,” including visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens.
According to the European Commission, the number of refugee deaths in the Aegean Sea has declined considerably in recent years, and irregular arrivals through Turkey have decreased by 97 percent since the implementation of the deal.
“At this point in time, all parties must avoid anything that could undermine our cooperation and focus on mutual interests,” the commissioner added.