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Turkey, EU Sign Deal on Borders, Visas 17 décembre 2013

Posted by Acturca in EU / UE, Immigration, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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The Wall Street Journal Europe (USA) December 17, 2013, p. 5

By Ayla Albayrak and Matina Stevis

Istanbul – Turkey agreed to take back some people caught entering the European Union illegally from Turkish territory, in exchange for talks with Brussels about instituting visa-free travel in the bloc for Turks.

The long-awaited deal signed Monday comes as Europe seeks to ease one of its thorniest political problems — illegal immigration — and repair fractured ties with Ankara.

The signatures in the Turkish capital came as the humanitarian crisis from Syria’s civil war is increasingly spilling into Europe, with tens of thousands of refugees traveling through Turkey to seek safety in the bloc.

However, the immediate impact would be minor, if any, because it would apply only to people whose asylum applications are rejected. European governments cannot deport refugees under international law.

In addition, the readmission deal must first be ratified by both sides, and some of it doesn’t take effect for three years. Meanwhile, the talks on liberalizing visa rules for Turkish citizens are likely to take years

More than half of the 72,000 immigrants entering the EU illegally in 2012 came via Turkey — most of them into Greece, others to Bulgaria — according to Frontex, the EU border agency. The vast majority of those who crossed into Greece and Bulgaria this year are Syrians fleeing the war at home.

Analysts cautioned that it is unclear how much of an impact Monday’s agreement could ultimately have. The agreement could be useful in returning undocumented economic migrants, but wouldn’t apply to anyone seeking asylum.

National policies on migration across the bloc remain riddled with contradictions and mixed signals. And Turkey’s capacity for policing its own long borders remains low, while Turkish officials said Ankara would retain the right to suspend the agreement if authorities couldn’t cope with the influx.

« Three years is a short time frame to put this agreement into place and make it effective; it’s very ambitious, » said Elizabeth Collett, director at the Brussels-based think tank Migration Policy Institute. « Turkey still has its own humanitarian emergency situation with Syria. More broadly there is an issue of capacity and expertise. »

Calls for action have been growing louder as Greece and the rest of the EU have sunk into economic malaise and Istanbul has become more prominent as a migrant-smuggling hub.

In late 2012 Greece erected a 6-mile wall along its northern border with Turkey, stopping many from entering but also pushing the flow of migrants to seek to cross the Aegean Sea — a much-more dangerous journey.

Turkish analysts said any progress toward visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens would be seen as an « important and concrete step » toward boosting bilateral ties.

« For Turkey, it has a high political and symbolic value, as there is a perception that the EU doesn’t want us, » said Cengiz Aktar, director of the EU department in Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University.

Yet relations between Ankara and Brussels remain prickly; Many Turkish officials consider Brussels insincere in its offer of EU membership, while European officials privately voice serious doubts about Mr. Erdogan’s desire to push through EU-inspired political changes.

Last week, EU officials voiced concerns about press freedom in Turkey. Over the summer some European policy makers sharply criticized Mr. Erdogan’s response to antigovernment protests.

Mr. Erdogan has in recent years chafed at the EU’s demands for changes as Turkey’s economy boomed and its regional clout grew in tandem with a reorientation of foreign policy toward the Arab world.

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