Report: Merkel and Rutte made concrete promises with Turkey over refugee quota
A report has found that German Chancellor Merkel and Dutch PM Rutte agreed a refugee quota with Turkey in 2016 without informing other EU leaders. They reportedly pledged to accept up to 250,000 Syrian refugees per year.
When the EU-Turkey deal was struck last March, it was hailed by some in western Europe as a breakthrough for resolving the refugee crisis, regarded with skepticism by some eastern European nations, and sharply criticized by human rights groups.
Although the Turkish proposals came as a surprise at the time, a new report published on Monday found that many of the details were solidified ahead of the summit by German, Dutch and Turkish leaders.
The latest report from German daily "Die Welt" found that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte met with then-Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (above left) on March 6, 2016 - the night before the EU-Turkey summit.
Rutte - who held the rotating EU presidency at the time - and Merkel committed to a legal refugee quota with Turkey without telling other members of the European Union about the exact figures. The three leaders also agreed to present the details of their agreed-upon deal as a surprise proposal from the Turkish delegation the next day.
According to "Welt," Merkel and Rutte agreed that Europe would accept 150,000 to 200,000 Syrian refugees from Turkey per year. In the final document of the summit, the EU and Turkish leaders agreed to a "credible voluntary humanitarian admission program with Turkey."
The information in the report came from multiple sources who were involved in the negotiations.
The deal reached between the EU and Turkey outlined a seemingly simple exchange where one migrant would be repatriated from the EU to Turkey in exchange for every Syrian refugee the bloc accepted from Turkish camps.
At the time, the EU states and Turkey agreed to implement resettlement quotas that were agreed upon in 2015. Originally, 22,500 available places were promised for refugees to be resettled in Europe from Turkey.
The summit's final statement advises that the deal "does not establish any new commitments on Member States as far as relocation and resettlement is concerned."
The report is part of research conducted by "Welt" journalist Robin Alexander for his upcoming book - "Die Getriebenen - Merkel und die Flüchtlingspolitik" - about the decisions made by Merkel and her government that formed her refugee policies.
In late 2014, with the war in Syria approaching its fourth year and Islamic State making gains in the north of the country, the exodus of Syrians intensified. At the same time, others were fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Niger and Kosovo.
Seeking refuge over the border
Vast numbers of Syrian refugees had been gathering in border-town camps in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan since 2011. By 2015, with the camps full to bursting and residents often unable to find work or educate their children, more and more people decided to seek asylum further afield.
A long journey on foot
In 2015 an estimated 1.5 million people made their way on foot from Greece towards western Europe via the "Balkan route". The Schengen Agreement, which allows passport-free travel within much of the EU, was called into question as refugees headed towards the wealthier European nations.
Desperate sea crossings
Tens of thousands of refugees were also attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats. In April 2015, 800 people of various nationalities drowned when a boat traveling from Libya capsized off the Italian coast. This was to be just one of many similar tragedies - by the end of the year, nearly 4,000 refugees were reported to have died attempting the crossing.
Pressure on the borders
Countries along the EU's external border struggled to cope with the sheer number of arrivals. Fences were erected in Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia and Austria. Asylum laws were tightened and several Schengen area countries introduced temporary border controls.
Closing the open door
Critics of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open-door" refugee policy claimed it had made the situation worse by encouraging more people to embark on the dangerous journey to Europe. By September 2016, Germany had also introduced temporary checks on its border with Austria.
Striking a deal with Turkey
In early 2016, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement under which refugees arriving in Greece could be sent back to Turkey. The deal has been criticised by human rights groups and came under new strain following a vote by the European Parliament in November to freeze talks on Turkey's potential accession to the EU.
No end in sight
With anti-immigration sentiment in Europe growing, governments are still struggling to reach a consensus on how to handle the continuing refugee crisis. Attempts to introduce quotas for the distribution of refugees among EU member states have largely failed. Conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere show no signs coming to an end, and the death toll from refugee sea crossings is on the rise.