EU-Turkey migration deal: What is it and could it collapse?

Turkey’s decision to open its western borders to European Union members Greece and Bulgaria has jeopardised a deal on refugees between Ankara and the bloc. Turkey — which hosts 4 million refugees, including 3.6 million Syrians — said it had no choice but to ease its efforts in containing the refugee influx,
due to the military escalation in Syria’s Idlib province.
The north-western province, which is the opposition’s last stronghold in Syria, borders Turkey. Advances by the Syrian government there have displaced close to one million people, who are heading towards Turkey.
Ankara says it can no longer hold back people trying to reach Europe. The move has led thousands of migrants to Turkey’s frontiers, with Greece and Bulgaria bolstering security, and using force and teargas to fend people off.
In 2016, Ankara and the EU struck a deal that stemmed a flow of refugees heading for Europe — many of them fleeing the war in Syria. Turkey agreed to stop people reaching the EU’s external borders in neighbouring Greece and Bulgaria, and to take back people deemed ineligible for asylum.
In exchange, the EU pledged an overall 6 billion euros ($7.4 billion) in humanitarian aid for refugees in Turkey, as well as to take in up to 72,000 Syrians eligible for asylum — one Syrian for every person sent back to Turkey.
The agreement was the EU’s major response to a migration crisis that saw hundreds of thousands of people reaching Greece and Bulgaria by land and sea via Turkey starting from 2015.
EU capitals were and remain bitterly divided over how to deal with the influx of asylum seekers and migrants seen in recent years, which has met with a populist backlash in countries such as Italy, Hungary, Poland and Austria.
With several member states unwilling to take in large numbers and consensus among leaders blocked, the EU turned to Ankara. So far 4.7 billion euros have been allocated and 3.2 billion euros have been paid out, according to the latest figures from the European Commission.
Brussels keeps close oversight of the funds. Specific non-governmental organisations — for example Unicef and the World Food Programme — are chosen for projects focusing on health, education and infrastructure.
This is a sore point for Ankara, as it wants the cash directly. Turkey charges its wealthy neighbours of leaving it in the lurch to host millions of refugees. It has a population of 82 million, compared to the EU total of 447 million.
Some 1.2 million refugees and migrants reached Europe in 2015 and early 2016, according to the UNCHR.
Erdogan said on Monday that Turkey has been carrying the refugee burden alone for nine years, adding that it is now too late. Turkey warned months ago: “If you don’t share the burden with us then we will open gates’’. The president also criticises European countries for not supporting his long-touted plan for a safe zone along Turkey’s border with Syria, where Syrians could be re-settled.
“We either give them a life of dignity in their own land, or everyone shares the burden. Now the time for unilateral sacrifice is over,” he said.
Turkey has long sought more European support for its military activities in Syria, where it is fighting the Syrian government forces of President Bashar al Assad. Ankara also accuses the EU of tardiness in paying out the funds promised under the 2016 agreement.
The European Commission remains committed to the deal and has raised the prospect of further funds being lined up once the 6 billion euros has been paid out.
The EU executive has repeatedly called on Turkey to stick to its commitments in recent days, and says it is in “intensive dialogue” with Ankara, including on the question of additional support to deal with the current situation. — dpa