Thursday

8th Dec 2016

Interview

Migrant swap deal with Turkey should go on, says Dutch initiator

  • Samsom leads the centre-left Labour party in the Netherlands, one of the two coalition partners supporting PM Mark Rutte's government (Photo: Christopher A. Dominic)

The cancellation of a mini-summit Thursday (18 February) on refugees is a “setback”, but only in terms of process, said Dutch centre-left MP Diederik Samsom.

He told a handful of media, including EUobserver, that he still believes a migrant swap deal with Turkey is feasible.

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  • Dutch MP Samsom (l) with the leader of the party of European socialists (Photo: PES Communications)

The plan, which in the Netherlands bears Samsom's name, is to offer to resettle several hundreds of thousands of people from Turkey into Europe in exchange for Turkey accepting that all asylum seekers entering Greece are sent back.

“This solution prevents humanitarian disasters, and establishes an organised asylum flow. I have not yet seen an alternative that does both. You could erect fences everywhere, which would establish an organised asylum flow, but then you only worsen the humanitarian aspect.”

Samsom leads the centre-left Labour party in the Netherlands, which is one of the two coalition partners supporting PM Mark Rutte's government.

He spoke on Thursday afternoon after meeting with his European socialist colleagues in Brussels.

“There was large consensus that the solution as we have proposed it, is the right solution,” said Samsom. “However, there was a difference in optimism if it will work.”

The idea is that between 150,000 and 250,000 refugees would be resettled from Turkey in European countries. EU countries would voluntarily sign up to take in refugees.

In return, all migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey should be returned to Turkey, including those that have asked for asylum in Greece.

“Only that last step would prevent that people get on those boats,” he said, adding that again last night several migrants had drowned.

“As long as you relocate elsewhere into Europe, that boat trip is the gateway to Germany. But you need to make the airport of Ankara the gateway to Germany, or to the Netherlands, or to Europe.”

“But honestly, it would be a big step if we send back the irregular migrants.”

According to Samsom, the following countries are behind the scheme: Sweden, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. France would participate by taking up to 30,000, which it had already promised to accept through a previous relocation scheme.

“They still want that 30,000. If these would come directly from Turkey, than that would be fine,” said the Dutchman.

While the Dutch government has not officially adopted the plan, Samsom has said he has PM Rutte's support. With the Netherlands holding the six-month rotating presidency, it is perhaps not surprising the government would like to appear neutral.

The MP quoted from a recent draft version of the conclusions from Thursday's and Friday's EU summit, saying that EU leaders “welcome the willingness of some member states to participate” in a scheme of voluntary resettlement.

That sentence is now too “reticent”, he noted, adding that the summit conclusions should reassure Turkey that Europe will share the burden of the refugees that continue to flee the war in Syria.

“We always think that we have a problem, and they don't. Which of course isn't true. They have 2.7 million refugees and a mafia of smugglers,” noted Samsom.

But he added the Turks “have other things on their mind” following a bomb attack in Ankara, which was the reason a mini-summit in Brussels involving the country was cancelled, and Turkey's involvement in the Syrian war.

Last week, Turkey's ambassador to the EU, Selim Yenel, said Samsom's plan was “unacceptable” and “not feasible”.

“But that is because we haven't delivered,” said Samsom. “As long as we don't make clear that we will take a share of the burden, then Turkey will say [the scheme] is not going to happen.”

According to Samsom, a meeting with Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu is still needed, because both parts of the deal – EU countries resettling refugees, and Turkey accepting returns – have to be agreed at the same time.

“For that you really need to look each other in the eyes at the highest level.”

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