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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s efforts to tackle illegal immigration have encountered a significant setback as plans for a returns deal with Turkey, aimed at addressing the surge in Turkish nationals arriving in the UK via small boats, have collapsed. This development mirrors previous challenges faced in dealing with Rwanda and adds complexity to the government’s strategy.

The alarming increase in the number of Turkish nationals making the perilous 21-mile journey across the Channel, reaching 4,187 individuals from January 2022 to December 2023, prompted the government to seek a returns accord with Turkey. The objective was to replicate the success of the deal with Albania, which resulted in a 90% reduction in small boat crossings. However, an internal Home Office review raised doubts about Turkey’s suitability as a safe country for returns, citing concerns related to human rights violations.

The review highlighted that a significant portion, approximately 99%, of Turkish asylum cases in the UK were rooted in fear of the state, particularly political opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime. It criticized Turkey’s application of anti-terrorism laws, raised questions about the independence of the judiciary, and brought attention to allegations of torture and ill-treatment in police custody and prison.

GBNEWS reported that the review also cast doubt on Turkey’s compliance with rulings from the European Court of Human Rights. Despite these concerns, Sunak faces pressure to comply with interim injunctions from the same court regarding deportations to Rwanda. Turkey’s geopolitical complexity, situated on the European Union’s fringe with a significant refugee population, makes it an attractive prospect for people smugglers.

Erdogan’s reluctance to agree to a deal stems from concerns about the potential influx of migrants returning to a country already burdened with hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees and 320,000 from other war-torn regions. While the UK and Turkey have agreed to share live intelligence on people-smuggling gangs, negotiations on a returns deal remain delicate.

Recent Home Office figures reveal a 13% increase in migrants crossing the Channel in small boats in January, with a total of 29,437 arrivals in 2023. Despite these challenges, both countries prioritize maintaining their cooperative and valuable relationship, including intelligence sharing on smuggling activities.

In navigating this complex landscape, Sunak’s government grapples not only with legal hurdles but also geopolitical intricacies, balancing the imperative to control immigration with the necessity of preserving essential international relationships. The delicate dance of diplomacy, human rights considerations, and domestic security concerns further complicates the path to a viable solution.

As debates on immigration policy and international cooperation intensify, the fate of the returns deal with Turkey remains uncertain. The Prime Minister must navigate these challenges with prudence, acknowledging the legal and ethical dimensions while striving to address the pressing issue of illegal immigration. The delicate equilibrium between safeguarding national interests and upholding human rights forms the backdrop of this unfolding narrative.

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