“It’s a really grim day and it’s a really grim deal. It’s being celebrated by people who are dancing on the grave of refugee protection,” (John Dalhuisen)
After five months of intense negotiations, the European Union (EU) and Turkey finally inked a key deal on March 18 to prevent migration movements stemming from the Syrian war. But the deal, hailed by Turkey’s prime minister as a “success story,” is being harshly criticized by human rights groups and experts for failing to abide by international protection rules for those fleeing war and persecution. They are also concerned that the deal might lead to “collective expulsions.”
What is the deal?
Anyone arriving illegally in Greece after March 20 will be sent back to Turkey if their asylum application is rejected, or if they fail to apply at all.
The EU has said that people found to be “requiring international protection” will be accepted if they apply for asylum through the official channels.
In exchange for every person returned, the EU will resettle one Syrian refugee stuck in camps across Turkey. Priority will be given to those who have not previously tried to enter the EU illegally.
The EU has said the deal is aimed at slowing the uncontrolled, dangerous and deadly journeys people have been undergoing to reach the European mainland.
What does Turkey get?
In exchange for accepting those who are returned, Turkish nationals will soon have access to the EU’s passport-free Schengen Zone, allowing them visa-free travel around European countries that are part of the zone. This will probably begin in June this year.
The EU has also pledged $3.3bn in aid to Turkey to help with the refugee crisis. This includes working with Turkey along the border with Syria to “improve humanitarian conditions”.
Finally, both sides have agreed to increasing talks about Turkey’s bid to join the EU, with discussions due to begin in July.
What does the EU get?
Under the agreement, Turkey is obliged to “take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for illegal migration opening from Turkey to the EU”.
The hope is that the current crisis facing Greece will be eased by increased co-operation from Turkey.
In order to qualify for EU membership, the deal obliges Turkey to “take the necessary steps to fulfil the remaining requirements” for membership. This is thought to be a reference to Turkey’s questionable human rights record.
What happens to the people caught in the middle?
Anyone arriving in Greece illegally or who has their asylum application rejected will be sent back to Turkey.
The EU has said people will still have the applications processed individually.
According to the UN, thousands of people are now being held in a state of limbo on the Greek islands as they await their fate.
The agency said conditions are becoming increasingly poor as people are not being allowed to continue their journeys.
When did it start?
The deal came into effect on 20 March, meaning any Syrian refugees arriving in Greece after this date would fall under the ‘one-in-one-out’ agreement.
Returns began on 4 April, with reports that at least two boats carrying refugees and been seen leaving Greece for Turkey that morning.
Who does it affect?
The resettlement part of the deal only applies to Syrian refugees because Afghans, Pakistanis and other nationalities are not deemed entitled to European protection.
These nationalities could be sent back to Turkey under a different part of the agreement, but this will not lead to anyone being resettled in Europe.
Iraqis also have a chance of being settled in Europe under international protection, and it is not clear what their return would mean for the one in, one out deal.
Why are human rights groups against the deal?
Rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have criticised the deal as breaking EU law, and also being a breach of the UN Refugee Convention.
The Convention bans mass expulsions of any people under any circumstances; something rights groups argue is going to be the upshot of this agreement.
The EU argues that they will be assessing claims individually, but the recent classification of Turkey as a safe third country for refugees, a status that is being used to justify the return deal, it is likely many people will be sent there en masse.
What is a safe third country, and is Turkey one?
If a country is not going to keep an asylum – seeker in situ while his/her application is being processed, he/she need to be sent on to somewhere that is safe to remain while the paper work is being assessed.
This means that their life and well-being cannot be in danger in the country the asylum neekess are sent to by the country processing their application.
Turkey has not previously been designated a safe third country, in part because it is not a full signatory of the UN Refugee Convention.
Turkey has granted temporary protections to Syrian nationals, including temporary work visas and access to healthcare and education.
Rights groups, however, argue that the reality is quite different, with many Syrians being denied work and living in poverty. Non-Syrians have no protected status, and therefore even fewer rights.
A recent report by Amnesty International said that Turkey was illegally expelling about 100 people each day, forcing them back across the border to Syria, something Turkey has denied.
Main Points of the Deal
- All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as of 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey;
- For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled to the EU;
- Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for irregular migration opening from Turkey to the EU;
- Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU are ending or have been substantially reduced, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated;
- The fulfilment of the visa liberalisation roadmap will be accelerated with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016. Turkey will take all the necessary steps to fulfil the remaining requirements;
- The EU will, in close cooperation with Turkey, further speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated €3 billion under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey. Once these resources are about to be used in full, the EU will mobilise additional funding for the Facility up to an additional €3 billion to the end of 2018;
- The EU and Turkey welcomed the ongoing work on the upgrading of the Customs Union.
- The accession process will be re-energised, with Chapter 33 to be opened during the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union and preparatory work on the opening of other chapters to continue at an accelerated pace;
- The EU and Turkey will work to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria.