These days it is hard when you hear anything about Turkish EU accession not to sigh and pay very little attention. Turkey’s efforts to join the EU formally started in 2005 but have stalled in recent years, due to several stumbling blocks including Turkey’s human rights record and its large Muslim population.
The current news is on the latest “big push”, but it does seem to be garnering some weight this time. Recently even Germany has put its name behind support for full accession, or at least for negotiations thereof, and now Turkey really does seem to be taking on a renewed lease of accession-chasing life.
This is evidenced by Turkey adopting a new EU law regulating migration and asylum, which has been dubbed critical to progress towards accession. Turkey controversially refused to sign to sign-up to the law the first time it was tabled because the law expects Ankara to take back thousands of illegal migrants who have crossed its borders into Greece, the EU’s eastern frontier.
There are some 400,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey at present and the new law puts pressure on Turkey to give them legal status. Turkey is also a major transit point for illegal immigrants crossing into Europe via Greece, and the bill — first introduced last May — seeks to fine-tune its dysfunctional refugee system.
The new law, adopted by lawmakers late Thursday, will protect refugees from Syria and other non-European nations as “conditional refugees” instead of the previous description of “guests”.
“They will be allowed to remain in Turkey until they are placed in a third country,” read the law, which reserves full refugee status for Europeans only.
The law also introduces permanent residency for foreigners who remain in the country for eight years on residency permits and the right of individuals to challenge deportation orders in Turkish courts.
EU Commissioners Stefan Fule and Cecilia Malmstrom welcomed the law’s adoption.
They said in a statement that the move indicated Turkey’s “clear commitment to build an effective migration management system in line with EU and international standards.” The move was also hailed by rights groups, but some insisted the law as it stands falls short of solving the real problem.
“Turkey is still holding onto its geographical limitations in this law, putting only European refugees under full protection,” said Volkan Gorendağ, a migration specialist from Amnesty International Turkey branch.
“Nevertheless, it is a landmark decision … the very first time Turkey is giving migration a legal framework,” he told AFP.
The EU statement said the new law could lead to further talks on visa liberalisation between the 27-nation bloc and Turkey, which remains outside the visa-free regime applied to other candidate countries.