Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on the European Union (EU) and North African countries to do deals modelled on a controversial agreement that was signed with Turkey earlier this year to stem migrant flows to Europe.
Under the EU-Turkey agreement, Ankara agreed to take back one Syrian who made it to Greece in return for being allowed to send one from its massive refuge camps to the bloc in a more orderly redistribution programme. The agreement also pledges billions of euros in EU aid to Turkey, along with visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens and accelerated EU membership talks.
Last week, the German Chancellor told regional daily Neue Passauer Zeitung, “we must agree on similar deals with other countries, such as in North Africa, in order to get better control over the Mediterranean Sea refuge routes.” She further stated, “such agreements are also in the interest of the refugees themselves,” pointing to the huge risks that migrants take in crossing the Mediterranean in rickety vessels, as well as the large sums that they have to pay smugglers for the perilous sea passage. She added, “it is safer for them and there are good reasons for them to remain in Turkey, close to their homeland, where the cultural and language barriers are lower,” defending the agreement with Turkey as “correct, as before,” and stating, “we should work to ensure that it lasts.” Merkel has also urged EU partners to stop up to their responsibilities in taking in refuges who had arrived in Greece. Prior to the EU-Turkey agreement taking effect, some 45,000 refugees had arrived in Greece as Macedonia closed its borders to the migrants.
There are increasing concerns across the EU that the pact with Turkey to curb migrant flows could collapse as a rift deepens over Ankara’s crackdown following a failed coup. Turkey angrily rejects EU criticism that its post-putsch purges might violate rights norms that Ankara must meet under the agreement in return for visa-free travel for Turks and accelerated negotiations for bloc membership. Hungary has already announced that it will build a second fence along its southern border with Serbia that would effectively enable it to keep out any major new wave of migrants should the EU-Turkey agreement collapse.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced on 26 August that the country is planning to build a second fence on its southern border with Serbia that would effectively enable it to keep out any major new wave of migrants.
Orban told public radio that the new barrier, which is to be built alongside the existing one, would strengthen defences to respond if Turkey’s policy on migration changed, adding that if that occurred, hundreds of thousands could appear at Hungary’s border. He noted that “technical planning is under way to erect a more massive defence system next to the existing line of defence, which was built quickly (last year).” Orban also disclosed that Hungary had to prepare for the eventuality of a deal between Turkey and the European Union (EU) to clamp down on migration into Europe via the Balkans unravelling, adding, “then if it does not work with nice words, we will have to stop them with force, and we will do so.” He also indicated that Hungary would increase its police presence to 47,000 from 44,000, of which 3,000 will be constantly deployed on the southern border.
A razor-wire fence built along Hungary’s southern border with Serbia and Croatia has sharply reduced the flow of migrants. Last year, hundreds of thousands of migrants moved up from the Balkans towards northern Europe. That flow however has since been reduced to no more than a steady trickle.
Under the existing agreement between Turkey and the EU, Turkey has agreed to help stem the tide of illegal migrants into the bloc in exchange for aid and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan however has repeatedly stated that European leader are not living up to their side of the pact.
On Friday, Orban and other prime ministers of Central European EU member states, the Visegrad countries, met in Warsaw along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Orban stated that the task for politicians was to change a decision by the EU to let in migrants and distribute them based on quotas among member states. Oran stated that “the question is whether Angela Merkel will be willing to change this flawed Brussels decision together with us. Whether she is willing to fight with us for this, or not.” Hunger is due to hold a referendum on 2 October on whether to accept any future EU quota system for resettling migrants.