On Monday the European Union leaders will meet with the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, in Brussels for a special summit to try find a solution to the refugee crisis.
On the ground, however, that crisis is constantly shifting. Now the focus is on Greece, which is being left to deal with those many thousands still arriving on its shores after the route north through the Balkans was effectively blocked. But it could soon switch to Italy.
Donald Tusk, the European Council president, traveled to Ankara and Athens on Thursday to lay the groundwork for the summit.
He called on economic migrants not to risk their lives or money to make the dangerous journey to Europe and also called on E.U. states to stop taking unilateral actions. “Wherever you come from: Do not come to Europe,” he said. “It’s all for nothing.”
Meanwhile, the European Commission is piling on the pressure to ensure that borderless travel with Europe can be reestablished.
A roadmap presented by the Commission on Friday highlights the economic cost of border controls, underlining the need for a swift return to a functioning Schengen system.
“Temporary border controls not only hamper the free movement of persons, they also come with significant economic costs,” the report stated.
The Commission estimates that the direct costs of between €5 and €18 billion, or around $5.6 and $19.6 billion, on Europe’s economy, largely due to the decline of freight, tourism and workers who cross the borders on a daily basis.
“Schengen is one of the most cherished achievements of European integration, and the costs of losing it would be huge. Our aim is to lift all internal border controls as quickly as possible, and by December 2016 at the latest,” said First Vice-President Frans Timmermans in a statement released on Friday.
“It’s good that the Commission is showing how fast the market can go belly up,” Markus Ferber, an MEP for Germany’s Christian Social Union told Handelsblatt.
However, getting the Schengen system back on track hinges on two conditions: reducing numbers of refugees and improving management of external borders. Turkey plays a key role on both counts.
On Monday, Ankara and Brussels will take stock of their agreed action plan, and they will likely draw mixed conclusions. “More could be done,” sources in Brussels told Handelsblatt.
One example of this is the border village of Inanli, which lies barely 200 meters from Syria. Here armored vehicles chug their way through the olive groves not to attack enemy positions, but to stop Syrian refugees from entering Turkey. To that end, they built a barbed-wire wall 3 meters high and 30 centimeters thick.
Attacks by the Syrian army backed by Russian fighter jets, combined with territorial gains by Kurdish militias around the city of Aleppo are driving tens of thousands of people to flee. They are stuck at the border because Turkey no longer lets them pass. Meanwhile, soldiers are instructed that those who have already fled should be stopped from continuing their journey from the western coast of Turkey across to Greece.
Turkey has found itself at the frontline of the refugee crisis. It has taken in 2.7 million Syrian refugees in the past five years. In comparison, last year nearly 1.3 million people applied for asylum in Europe, including a total of 476,000 in Germany. In Anatolia there are cities where there is one Syrian for every Turkish citizen. In Turkey’s southern-central settlement Kilis, near the border town of Inanli, the population has doubled to 180,000.
Abdulsami is one of the many newcomers. One afternoon he wanders out of Kilis’ industrial zone, alongside three colleagues. Two months ago, the 28-year-old man left his home near Aleppo, to seek refuge in Turkey. Since then he has found work on a building site, where he is in charge of installing the water pipes. Neither he nor his employer has a problem with the fact he works illegally.
Since mid-January, Syrians can officially work in Turkey. However, businesses and construction firms prefer to recruit the new workforce unofficially, as that way they can skirt the new minimum wage, which amounts to around €400 per month. But Abdulsami doesn’t mind. He is relieved to be able to work at all. “We are constantly asked if we can work or help out,” he explained in broken Turkish.