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Peace at home, peace in the world

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Interview of H.E. Mr. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to NRC Handelsblad, 6 February 2016, Amsterdam

INTERVIEW WITH THE TURKISH MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS MEVLÜT ÇAVUSOĞLU: “ONE SHOULD ALSO TAKE AWAY THE CAUSE THAT MAKES PEOPLE FLEE” – NRC HANDELSBLAD, 6 FEBRUARY 2016

GEOPOLITICS – INFORMAL EU MEETING BRINGS, AMONGST OTHERS, THE NATO-CHIEF AND THE TURKISH MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS TO AMSTERDAM

[English translation of the text of the interview as published in the newspaper]

Turkey is making good on her promises. But to bring the number of migrants down to zero, that is impossible.

AMSTERDAM – The refugee-crisis is driving the EU and Turkey into each other’s arms. The Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavusoğlu, is in the Netherlands for an informal meeting with his European colleagues. It is already the third visit in a relatively short time under the Dutch Chairmanship. Frantically people are trying to find a formula to stem the stream or refugees.

That will not prove possible without an end to the violence in Syria, says Çavusoğlu. As he is about to sit in on the meeting in Amsterdam, Turkey is readying herself for a new influx of refugees. Assad’s troops, supported by the Russian bombings, are advancing on Aleppo. Over the past couple of days 15.000 people have started to flee in the direction of the Turkish border. In total some 70.000 people are said to be on the move.

Will they be allowed in?
“We cannot close our doors to these people when they are trying to flee from death. The attacks of the regime of Assad on civilians, hospitals, schools, supported by the Russians and Iran, also continued during the Geneva peace talks. This needs to stop as quickly as possible. Otherwise their number will not remain limited to 50.000 or 70.000 people. In the vicinity of Aleppo alone there live nearly three million people. So the number of people could easily go up to 2.3 million people. And we already have 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. With an additional 2 million that number would grow to 4.5 million. That is a burden that Turkey cannot possibly shoulder alone.”

People are waiting on the Syrian side of the border. So are you now saying that the border will be opened to them?
“The borders are not closed, but in order to prevent that terrorist should mix in with these people we will of course be taking in these people in a controlled manner. Over the past days we have already allowed ten thousand people in.”

Are you considering sending in ground troops? Will Turkey just keep watching as the Russians do as they please?
“Let’s have Turkey shoulder the entire burden of the refugees. Let’s have Turkey fight IS. Let’s have Turkey stop Russia. But all this is of no use. It is the United Nations that ought to be entering the picture here, as should also the United States the United Kingdom and France; to stop the attacks of Russia on citizens. Why else do we all form part of a coalition of 65 countries against IS, which also includes the Netherlands?

Can Turkey handle that? Another 70.000 people on top of those already there?
“Unto now Turkey has spent close on 9 billion Dollar and the money we have received is 450 million Dollar. That is [almost] comical. Everyone keeps saying: your camps are very good. Well done Turkey. You are providing good facilities.” And they thank us. But that is of little use to the people living there. Nor are we doing all this to be applauded for it, we are doing so out of shared humanity. At present we are working closely together with the EU. A joint plan of action. That is how it ought to be. It would be unjust towards Turkey is she were to be made to bear that heavy burden alone.”

Is it correct that Turkey wishes to have more than the 3 billion from Europe? I have heard for instance people mention 5 billion?
“Our agreement with the EU concerns 3 billion. And this is arriving with delays due to internal problems with the EU. First it was Italy that had certain objections. And now it is the Greek-Cypriot part. Over the past fourteen years every time when the EU needs to take steps and there is something the matter with it, then the Greek-Cypriot part is pushed forward again. Unfortunately, there are quite a number of EU-countries that are hiding behind this. That 3 billion will not go straight into the Turkish treasury. It will go directly to the Syrians living in Turkey the more means we can make available together the better will be the circumstances that we will be able to create for these people.”

You are saying that the EU is not producing where that 3 billion is concerned. In that case do you still feel bound by the deal?
“Turkey always keeps her promises. And we do not promise things that we are unable to make good upon. That holds true for visa-liberalizations as well as for the roadmap for the refugees and the migrants. We are getting to grips with the illegal migration. We are fighting human trafficking. And we have issued the necessary laws, like with regard to the issuance of work permits. The number of migrants making the crossing every day has already been reduced considerably. But to reduce it to zero is impossible. Certainly not if one does not remove the cause of why people are fleeing.”

Have promises been made to the Turkish government with regard to the directly taking over of refugees by European countries, so that the refugees no longer need to make the sea-crossing?
“In our joint action plan it has also been agreed that the European countries are to rehome a certain number of Syrians. We have conferred on this twice with like-minded countries. People are discussing numbers.

What kind of numbers?
“It would not be correct to now start naming numbers of each individual country. But this forms part of the joint action plan and the talks are still ongoing. It will have to be a joint decision of the EU-countries.”

Why does Turkey set such great store by the lifting of the visa requirement for Turks?
“It is unjust that European countries are demanding a visa from the Turks, while Turkey is conducting accession-negotiations. Second, it no longer is the case that Turks would en masse be coming to Europe once the visa requirement is lifted. This is no longer the Turkey of sixty or even fifteen years ago. Given the opportunity, the Turks who are living here in the Netherlands would even prefer to return to Turkey. Turkey has a big and growing economy. The democracy and the freedoms in Turkey have been strengthened. And so the grounds to come over [to Europe] out of political reasons no longer exist. But a respectable businessman feels bound to ask my help as Minister of Foreign Affairs to obtain a visa to a European country. That is embarrassing.”

One in four requests for asylum from within Turkey is honoured in Europe. And in the South East of the Turkey a tough battle is being waged, war-like situations. Could it be that later on all Turkish Kurds will be coming to the visa-free Europe and will be requesting asylum here?
“I object to the term ‘war’ in this context. It was not called ‘war’ when England fought the IRA. Turkey is fighting the terror organization PKK and to that effect is carrying out operations. And in that Turkey is being most meticulous to see to it that the civilian population is not experiencing harm from this. The police and our soldiers act with respect for the human rights. The terror organization is in fact not doing so. They are using people as a living shield. With random attacks and with long-distance weapons they have killed many citizens, including children. No democratic country anywhere would allow for such terror organizations.”