Cutting deals with peoples’ lives

On Sunday, Turkey and the European Union reached a deal to try to stem the tide of Syrian refugees passing through Turkey and into Europe:

Under Sunday’s agreement, Turkey would increase patrols in the Aegean Sea and on the land borders with Greece and Bulgaria, as well as crack down on human-trafficking gangs. Turkey also agreed—starting next year—to implement an agreement to take back migrants whose asylum claims are denied by EU countries.

In exchange, EU leaders pledged to provide an “initial” €3 billion ($3.19 billion) to Turkey to help it handle the more than two million refugees in the country. Much of that money would go directly to groups helping refugees in Turkey or to programs set up by the Turkish government to house, train and integrate migrants.

EU leaders also promised to open negotiations on a new chapter in Turkey’s bid to join the bloc—a move likely to be approved on Dec. 14—and to hold twice-yearly summits with Turkey’s leaders. They pledged to speed work on Ankara’s bid to win visa-free access to the EU for its citizens.

If only you could motivate Europe (and the US) to spend this much money on refugees when they didn’t have an immediate national interest in doing so. But note that this bribe package of incentives doesn’t amount to much, and neither do Turkey’s apparent obligations. Agreeing to talk to Ankara about talking about Turkey maybe joining the EU someday isn’t really agreeing to do anything, and anyway Tayyip Erdoğan has never shown much more than a casual interest in joining the EU in the past (although his current spat with Russia may be causing him to rethink his foreign policy orientations a little bit). On the other hand, let’s be honest: Turkey’s “increased patrols in the Aegean Sea” and “crack down on human-trafficking gangs” might slow down the migration, but they’re unlikely to stop it altogether. But if what Ankara means by “cracking down” is that it’s going to start arresting people who are trying to get to Europe, then this deal is going to buy the EU a little (very little) breather at potentially enormous cost to the refugees themselves.

But, hey, European governments get to look like they’re Doing Something to keep the Muslims out, and Turkey gets some cash and a diplomatic fig leaf from the EU, so who cares what the actual impact will be on the refugees, am I right? It’s not like this deal is unprecedented, after all.

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