EU-Turkey deal unlikely to be fully implemented or alleviate long-term refugee influx

Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks at the "Supporting Syria and the Region" conference in London, 4 March 2016. Source: PA

Key Points

  • The agreement between the EU and Turkey is intended to curb the illegal influx of migrants from Turkey into Greece across the Aegean Sea.
  • Although the deal is likely to help alleviate political pressure on EU leaders to curtail the refugee influx, it is not expected to come into effect until mid-April, and will at best discourage only a portion of future migrants, potentially prompting them to exploit alternative routes.
  • Despite its role in the refugee deal, eventual full EU membership remains highly unlikely for Turkey. Schengen visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens will also be undermined by the resistance of individual Schengen member states to this concession.


On 22 March, the chief spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Melissa Fleming, condemned the 18 March refugee deal between the EU and Turkey, saying that closure of the routes into Europe has turned hotspots across Greece into prisons.
Under an agreement signed on 18 March, Turkey agreed to accept back asylum-seekers - including, but not exclusively, Syrians - who illegally cross the Aegean Sea to reach Greece and are not granted asylum. In exchange for every such asylum-seeker sent back to Turkey, one Syrian asylum-seeker from Turkey's refugee camps will be resettled in the EU. This one-for-one system is capped at a maximum of 72,000 refugees for 2016. In addition to the refugee swap, the deal provides for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in the Schengen area by June 2016, the resumption of frozen negotiations on Turkey's EU membership bid, and an additional EUR3-billion (USD3.3-billion) lump sum in financial assistance on top of the previously agreed EUR3 billion.
The far-reaching concessions by the EU made as part of the deal point to the increasing pressure on member states to curb what is likely to be a large influx of refugees as the weather improves with the arrival of spring; pressure now further exacerbated by the recent Brussels and Paris terrorist attacks, in which at least two of the perpetrators were suspected of having entered Europe disguised as refugees.

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