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Lana Asfour

EU urges Turkey to cooperate against Islamic State group

There are a million Syrian refugees in Turkey [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 December, 2014

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EU diplomatic chief Mogherini is reportedly trying to persuade Turkey to cooperate more closely in the fight against the IS group, and to join EU sanctions against Russia.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is reportedly trying to persuade Turkey to cooperate more closely in the fight against the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS) in a high-profile EU visit on Monday and Tuesday.

Mogherini will bring up the EU's concern over possible terrorist attacks by European nationals returning home after fighting with IS and other armed groups in Iraq and Syria.

The EU wants Turkey to tighten its border controls to prevent IS fighters entering, especially from neighbouring Syria. Turkey is believed to be on the main route for IS fighters from Syria trying to reach Europe, and also a point of entry for weapons and fighters going to Syria.

Turkey opposes the Alawite regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and has been considered by the EU to have dragged its feet on tightening border controls and to have turned a blind eye to the movement of armed anti-Assad groups across its border.

Another important issue that the talks are likely to address is Turkey's lack of participation in European and US economic sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

Turkey has not imposed sanctions on Russia, even though NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on Ankara to do so a week ago.
     How are you going to impose travel restrictions when 200,000 people fled from Kobane in five days?
- Mensur Akgun, Istanbul Kultur University


Stoltenberg's request came on the same day Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Turkey to discuss an increase in bilateral trade and new forms of cooperation.

The visit led Moscow to anounce that it would abandon its project of a South Sea gas pipeline, which was going to transport Russian natural gas through the Black Sea and eastern and central European countries. Instead, Turkey would be its partner for a new gas pipeline.

Turkish objections

In Turkish eyes, EU pressure to tighten borders and to join sanctions against Russia are unfair.

Mensur Akgun, chair of International Relations at Istanbul Kultur University, sees the EU agenda at the talks as "mission impossible". 

Turkey insists that it has tightened border controls. In September, the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reported that 830 European nationals were caught trying to enter Syria to fight with IS. They had all been deported in the past two years.

More recently, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week that the country had banned more than 7,200 suspected foreign fighters from crossing its borders since 2011.

Meanwhile, the influx of refugees into Turkey from Syria increases daily.

"How are you going to impose restrictions when 200,000 people fled to Turkey in five days from Kobane?" said Akgun of Istanbul's Kultur University.

Syrian refugee crisis

There are around one million officially registered Syrian refugees in Turkey, out of a regional total of more than three million outside Syria.

The UNHCR's annual operational budget to aid the refugees in Turkey has increased over the past five years from $17.7 million to $320.16 million - but this is only a fraction of what is required to meet the needs of the ongoing crisis.

Turkish international relations analyst Akgun told Al Araby al Jadeed that the international community had not adequately helped Turkey and the other regional countries hosting refugees with the enormous strain on their resources and infrastructure. 

"I hope [Mogherini's visit] will be an eye-opener. I hope she will be able to put pressure on EU countries to give humanitarian aid," he said.
     I hope she will be able to put pressure on EU countries to give humanitarian aid.
- Mensur Akgun, Istanbul Kultur University


Mogherini will be visiting some refugee camps, accompanied by EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides.

Turkey as an EU member

Mogherini will also discuss Turkey's ambitions to be an EU member with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu.

Formal talks began in 2005 but have a long way before Turkish entry is secured. Germany and France oppose Turkey's membership, while Turkey's human rights record and the ongoing territorial dispute over Cyprus have also dampened European enthusiasm. Some EU countries are also wary of granting membership to a large Muslim nation.

However, the need for Turkey's strategic cooperation in relation to IS has brought membership back on the agenda.

An EU statement ahead of the talks emphasised Turkey's importance "as a candidate country negotiating accession to the European Union and as a key partner and neighbour considering its strategic location and dynamic economy".

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