How the EU and Turkey are benefitting from the deal
In July 2020, the European Union granted an additional 500 million Euro to Turkey within the framework of the so-called "EU-Turkey Deal".1 Over 6 billion Euro have so far been paid to Turkey by the EU since the 2016 deal,2 whereby EU leaders persuaded the country to support them in “protecting their borders” by forcibly preventing a further influx of refugees. The borders of Europe are increasingly fortified so that migrants from the global south cannot reach Western Europe. To this ends, the EU has in recent years paid millions to governments of third countries at the borders of Europe – some in a state of civil war or war-like conditions - including Libya, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco, to set up detention camps for refugees and to expand and strengthen repressive bodies such as border and Coast Guard.
The payment, which has now been approved, follows a number of provocations on Turkey’s part towards the EU and Greece: At the end of February, for example, Turkey "opened its gates" and transported hundreds of refugees to the country's border with Greece in order to unleash a “storming of the border”. Greece’s immediate response was to further militarize its borders, backed by the EU. Heavily-armed police and army officers shot at refugees, resulting in serious injuries and deaths.3
"Accommodation of refugees"
Officially, EU funds to Turkey are slated for purposes of the "accommodation of refugees" and border control.4 This means that "refugee camps" are to be set up in Turkey and its borders with Europe secured militarily. The direct transmission of images from the Aegean Sea or camps such as Moria into living rooms in Western Europe has put Turkey in a powerful position:5 Ankara can make (financial) demands of the EU and in return, step up efforts to prevent crossings over its borders to Greece or Bulgaria.
The EU-Turkey Deal also applies to the return and readmission of "illegal migrants," obliging Turkey to take back refugees who the EU deems "irregular migrants". Contrary to the statements of EU Commissioner Janez Lenarcic, money granted to Turkey is by no means used to support humanitarian projects only.6 Rather, the payment also funds patrol bodies such as the Turkish Coast Guard to extend and upgrade their capacities. Turkey is expected to actively pick people up at sea, bring them back to land and – as has increasingly been the case in the recent months – assist in so-called "pushbacks," as well as rescuing those who have been put in distress by the actions of the Greek Coast Guard.
The European policy of deterrence
The EU-Turkey Deal also aims to discourage people from travelling further onwards into the EU. In this respect, this treaty falls into a long tradition of EU dealings with refugees: that is, the establishment of camps in states close to migrants’ countries of origin, financed by the "rich" West.7 Though accounts in Western media often obscure the fact, the majority of refugee camps are not located within the EU. While camps serve to prevent people from coming to the West, they have also become a lucrative source of income for the countries hosting them. Under the guise of "caring for refugees", the EU pumps millions into dictatorial and corrupt governments.
The precarious conditions which some three million refugees face in Turkey often make the hazardous crossing into the EU the only dignified option. This gives additional leverage to the Turkish government.
There is a consensus between EU countries that it is necessary to keep migration "under control," by restricting freedom of movement and immigration. Across the spectrum from left to right, politicians have expressed the belief that migration must be controlled by any means.8 Agreements such as the EU-Turkey deal are the product of this policy.
According to the Dublin Regulation, it is the "first state" of arrival that is responsible for incoming migrants, in this case, typically Greece.9 The Greek government is overwhelmed yet completely unwilling to care for the large number of arrivals on its shores, resulting in the dire conditions in camps like Moria on Lesvos. Residents in these camps are forced to live in these insecure facilities, sometimes for years, while stuck on the island waiting for travel to the mainland. Once there, the daily routine of waiting, bureaucratic procedures and rigid camp structures are replicated. The global system of migration deliberately denies any space for autonomy on the part of refugees.
Power games on the backs of migrants
Turkey is becoming an increasingly authoritarian regime. Its politics are being reshaped by a reversal of democratic gains, decades of persecution and oppression of minorities, and Turkey’s active role in the war in Syria.10 Since 2016, Turkey has launched an invasion in northern Syria on two occasions, displacing thousands and attacking a revolutionary project. While receiving millions of Euros from the EU for the "accommodation of refugees," Turkey at the same time displaces thousands more people.11
With a large sum of EU money remaining in the country, a substantial part within government, the EU-Turkey deal also aids President Erdoğan in increasing his legitimacy, both domestically and vis-à-vis international actors.12 The fact that European countries are seeking close cooperation with Turkey reflects the EU's own powerful self-interest. Though it is officially claimed otherwise, the deal was never about supporting refugees, but about controlling migration and migrants and protecting European privileges.
Refugees who have already escaped war zones or left their countries as they saw no other choice, taking unbelievably dangerous journeys, have become pawns in the hands of the EU and Turkey. These power games are played off the backs of vulnerable people who have been forced to flee. Migrants who do not die in the Mediterranean Sea or in camps, survive in precarious conditions, undertake slave-like jobs or are isolated in prisons.
Fighting for another vision
Solidarity means both providing practical assistance to those who have fled and identifying the causes of flight to show who benefits from the militarization of borders. Capitalism and governing systems inevitably force people to flee, whether through war or the unjust distribution of global wealth. For us, acting in solidarity means taking part in building counter-narratives against the prevailing hostile conditions. We must continue to fight for such a vision. The EU-Turkey Deal, and concept of the nation state generally, is of no help to us, with its foundations in racism, colonialism and centuries of exploitation of the global south. This needs to be countered. We must organize ourselves from below. Beginning with the places we live and our social relations, we must build our own counter-structures, independent of state institutions and struggle for a vision of a world based on solidarity!
© Header picture: Toni Petraschk / Mare Liberum