Volkan Furuncu / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Europe, Turkey seal deal to stem flow of migrants

Europe will pay Turkey $3.2 billion to improve life for the 2.2 million Syrians now living inside its borders

Turkey will help stem the flow of migrants to Europe in return for cash, visas and renewed talks on its joining the European Union in a deal struck Sunday that the Turkish prime minister called a "new beginning" for the uneasy neighbors.

Leaders of the 28 European Union states met Turkish premier Ahmet Davutoglu in Brussels on Sunday evening to give their collective political blessing to an agreement hammered out by diplomats over the past few weeks.

A key element is $3.2 billion in EU aid for the 2.2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. The money is intended to raise the refugees' living standards so that more will stay put rather than attempt often-perilous crossings to the Greek islands and the EU.

The EU had offered the total amount of aid over two years, and Turkey had pushed for the same amount annually. Now the money, as French President Francois Hollande said, will paid out bit by bit, giving a possibility of a total more or less than $3.2 billion. 

Also on offer to Ankara, which wants to revive relations with its European neighbors as it faces trouble in the Middle East and from Russia, is a "re-energized" negotiating process on Turkish membership in the EU — even if few on either side expect it to join soon.

And many Turks could also benefit from visa-free travel to Europe's Schengen zone within a year if Turkey meets conditions on tightening its borders in the east to Asian migrants and moves other benchmarks on reducing departures to Europe.

Aware of a sense of desperation in Europe for a solution to a crisis that is tearing the bloc apart following the arrival of close to a million people this year, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan drove a hard bargain.

The deal requires Turkish help, including through naval patrols and border checks, in handling the flow of migrants to the EU, expected to reach 1.5 million people this year alone.

"Results must be achieved in particular in stemming the influx of irregular migrants," a joint statement by the EU and Turkey read. "Both sides will, as agreed and with immediate effect, step up their active cooperation on migrants who are not in need of international protection, preventing travel to Turkey and the EU.”

Summit chairman Donald Tusk stressed that the meeting was primarily about migration rather than improving Turkish ties, which have been strained in recent years as Erdogan has used a powerful electoral mandate to consolidate his power. Critics say he has abused the rights of opponents, media and minority Kurds.

The Europeans, none more so than German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are under pressure to manage the biggest influx of people since World War II, the bulk of them to Germany. The crisis has helped populist opponents and set nations against each other, straining the open borders of the EU.

Before the summit itself, Merkel met leaders of some other EU states which have taken in many refugees and said afterwards they had discussed how they might resettle more of them directly from Syria rather than wait for families to reach the EU via dangerous smuggling routes across the Mediterranean.

She said they had discussed no figures. German media reports had spoken earlier of up to 400,000 Syrians being resettled.

Measures the EU has taken have done little to control migrant movements. While winter weather may lower the numbers for a few months, it is also worsening the plight of tens of thousands stuck by closing borders in the Balkans.

Sunday's summit, called just days ago as Brussels tried to clinch a deal offered over a month ago, has been complicated by Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane on the Syrian border.

That has complicated European efforts to re-engage with Moscow, despite a continued frost over Ukraine, in order to try to advance a peace in Syria that could end the flight of refugees and contain the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said tension between Ankara and Moscow over the downing of the warplane were of "enormous concern." The EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the incident should not affect the prospect of finding a political deal on Syria.

The Nov. 13 attack on Paris by ISIL fighters has heightened calls in the EU for more controls on people arriving from Syria.

Merkel has forced the pace in securing a deal with Turkey that has left critics of Erdogan's human rights policies uneasy.

The German leader defended her stance: "If we are strategic partners, we must of course discuss openly with each other those issues on which we have questions, concerns or criticism."


Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter