24th Mar 2018

Dutch want migrant swap deal with Turkey

  • Migrants entering Greece illegally would be sent back to Turkey immediately (Photo: Lee Kelleher)

The Netherlands is gathering support among a group of EU countries for a plan to accept “a couple hundred thousand refugees per year” from Turkey, in exchange for sending back all illegal migrants that arrive in Greece.

The plan was revealed on Thursday (28 January) by Dutch social-democrat leader Diederik Samsom in an interview with newspaper De Volkskrant, and has the support of prime minister Mark Rutte.

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  • Samsom: 'It is more a question of principle than of necessity that 10 Syrian families can go to Latvia'

The Netherlands currently holds the rotating six-month EU presidency.

“I think there is a realistic chance that by this spring a leading group of EU countries will have an agreement with Turkey about a legal migration route for a couple hundred thousand refugees per year, in exchange for [Turkey] accepting back everyone who enters [the EU] via Greece,” Samsom told the paper's Brussels correspondent.

The idea is to distribute "between 150,000 and 250,000" refugees among EU countries who voluntarily take part in the plan.

A first meeting about the plan took place in December, with Rutte, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Swedish prime minister Stefan Loefven, and Dutch EU commissioner Frans Timmermans.

Samsom noted he has been speaking “intensively” with Germany, Austria, and Sweden “because they have social-democrats in the government”.

“In the worst case scenario, only these countries plus a few like France, Spain, and Portugal take part,” he said, adding that France has been “dodging” the issue.

“When I call prime minister Valls [about the plan], he says 'interessant, tres interessant', and hopes I don't ask any further.”

Turkey becoming safer?

Binding quotas do not work, he said, referring to the scheme to redistribute 160,000 migrants from Italy and Greece.

The plan was forced through against the will of some eastern EU members, and fewer than 400 have been relocated so far.

"It is more a question of principle than of necessity that 10 Syrian families can go to Latvia or the Czech Republic. Those 10 families can be hosted in the Netherlands, really," said Samsom.

While under the Samsom plan reluctant member states would not be forced to take up any refugees, they would have to pitch in financially. The plan, which he described as “the permanent [EU] asylum system”, would be funded from the EU budget.

For the plan to work and for illegal migrants to be sent back to Turkey “by return ferry”, Turkey would have to be considered a safe country by United Nations criteria.

“Developments are happening fast,” Samsom said, noting that Turkey was giving Syrian refugees the right to work, and increasing the number of children permitted to receive education.

"We are not far removed from the moment that Turkey receives the status of safe country."

Greece needs 'greater intensity'

Samsom is one of the architects of the current Dutch coalition government, which began work in 2012. It relies on support from a Samsom's centre-left Labour party and Rutte's centre-right Liberals, normally each other's political foes.

Although the two parties have different reasons for wanting to solve the refugee crisis, the issue is “paradoxically bringing the coalition partners closer together”, said Samsom.

Another reason might be that, according to opinion polls, elections earlier than the planned 2017 are in the interests of neither party.

The populist anti-immigration party of MP Geert Wilders has overtaken Rutte's party as the largest in most polls since September, and support for Samsom's party has plummeted.

Meanwhile, in Germany, Merkel's spokesperson Steffen Seibert said Turkey must stop smugglers with "greater intensity and consistency".

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