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European Council Hosts Migration Summit With Turkey


In Brussels, European leaders concluded their meeting with Turkish officials and appear to have the foundation of a deal to address the migrant crisis. Nearly 3 million Syrian refugees are in Turkey according to the U.N.'s Refugee Agency. Europe has taken in more than a million refugees and migrants since the beginning of last year. That is too many according to some in Europe. Asli Aydintasbas is with the European Council on Foreign Relations. I reached her earlier today and asked what she expects will be the biggest points in any future agreement.

ASLI AYDINTASBAS: What the Europeans want is clear. They want Turkey to keep as many refugees as it can, and basically, they're willing to pay quite a hefty sum for that - 3 billion. But I think the biggest issue will be, in return, Turkey wants to see its own European Union membership progress. And that's really a sticking point. And of course, there's another Turkish demand, which is visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. Now, while they're trying to keep refugees out, granting visa-free travel for Turkish citizens is not going to be that easy, but it is part of the negotiating process. And they really are in no position to say no to Turkey on anything. They might have to accept Turkish demands.

SHAPIRO: But the EU may offer Turkey money or admission to the European Union or visa-free travel. I was in some of these coastal Turkish cities last summer and saw the smugglers taking migrants to Greece. These smugglers are making so much money off this operation. Won't they, as long as they have an economic incentive, find some way to get around Turkish authorities and keep bringing people over no matter what Europe might offer?

AYDINTASBAS: That's right. But now NATO is involved. And, well, if you've been on the coast, you've seen how difficult it is to entirely prevent it. But what the Europeans want is for Turkey to crack down on smugglers and to give them harsh enough sentences that people will be deterred.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like whatever the deal is that Europe and Turkey work out, refugees and migrants and the people who smuggle them may well have other ideas.

AYDINTASBAS: Exactly. Look; people in Europe and people in Turkey know that there's no way to stop the refugee flow entirely. I think what Europeans want is a predictable and controlled flow. They want Turkey to take back what they call illegal migrants. What they want is a vetted process, interviewing. They want to know. They want to be able to keep files on them, to record their names, to give them passports, issue papers, et cetera, not just people storming into Macedonia and Greece and, you know, sort of Austria and, finally, Germany.

SHAPIRO: As we mentioned, Turkey has already taken in roughly three times as many Syrian refugees as the entire continent of Europe. Turkey is not a wealthy country. Europe is very wealthy. How do Turkish people feel about being asked to shoulder even more of the burden?

AYDINTASBAS: Well, there's two sentiments here. Turks feel Europeans are - what Europe is telling us is, keep your borders open so we can keep our borders closed for people. And there is a sense that these are people in need. And I think Turkish society does deserve credit for having really taken in refugees and without much of a fuss. We do not have nearly as much economy as European countries have.

But I think there is also another response, which is part of the deal. And our written part of the deal is that Europeans will turn a blind eye to Turkey's increasingly deteriorating human rights record - human rights situation, freedom of press, crackdown on media and the Kurdish issue. We're not hearing anything from Europe. And basically, they're willing to keep quiet for now, and I think that's disappointing to many, especially pro-Western Turkish intellectuals, writers, journalists, et cetera, who had seen, up until this point, Europe as the benchmark for democracy.

SHAPIRO: Asli Aydintasbas, thank you so much for speaking with us.

AYDINTASBAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.