Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu is threatening to send 15,000 migrants to Europe per month to punish Europe in the wake of the diplomatic row over rejected Turkish ministers and the refusal to liberalize visas for Turkish citizens. Turkey’s threat to blow up the migrant agreement takes advantage of Europe’s fears and woes, but the reality in the country tells a little different story.
Refugees from the areas of Syria and Iraq where the war is ongoing aren’t crossing the Turkish border. Civilians fleeing cities like Mosul or from the countryside near Raqqa are seeking shelter in makeshift structures in the surrounding regions or in villages considered safe for the moment.
Compared with the open border policy Ankara instituted less than two years ago, the southern border today is guarded by the army, which has recently opened fire on people trying to cross the fences. But the new border control policies aren’t the only things making Turkey less attractive. The internal instability in a country crossed by violent political and ethnic tensions is another deterring factor, combined with the sense that the country is now at maximum capacity.
According to UNHCR, there are 2.9 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, plus 350,000 from other countries. The Turkish authorities report that there will be no further registration requests added to the waiting list, a sign that the people already in the country are still in transition and that Turkey is for now no longer a welcome destination.
Work and integration represent a challenge in an economy whose under-the-table employment, according to the statistical methods adopted, equals 25-37 percent of GDP. The migrant labor force was channeled mainly into the black market, particularly in construction and agriculture sectors. The Turkish government’s attempt to release work permits starting January 2016 has not been successful: An estimated 750,000 refugees are working, but only 7,000 have requested a permit.
There are more problems than just the cost of obtaining the document (about €150), bureaucratic difficulties and language barriers: Once granted permission to work, a person must be paid legal minimum wage. So migrant workers lose their advantage over local workers. It’s easier to survive in lawlessness. The only really employment opportunities for Syrian migrants are companies opened by their compatriots, of which there are about 5,000, according to the latest estimates by the Turkish Chamber of Commerce.
The possibility of obtaining a regular work permit was one of the flagships of European negotiations in the brokering the agreement between the E.U. and Turkey.
The deal, which began one year ago, set out an exchange mechanism by which one migrant would be regularized in Europe for each migrant branded as illegal and sent back to Turkey. But it hasn’t worked. The national bureaucracies don’t communicate with each other, and only 3,565 migrants have left Turkey for Europe. UNHCR has complained that its employees have had difficulty accessing Turkish facilities for the of migrants sent back to Turkey from Greece (748, as of December) and there’s been no cooperation from the authorities.
Finally, it remains to be seen whether any refugees, who for five or six years have been trying to rebuild their lives in Turkey, will really want to drop everything again and answer the call for 15,000 volunteers, just to please the Turkish government.