An Overview of the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal

Commentary by Danaë LAZARI

The refugee crisis has seen the biggest movement of people into the EU since WWII. More than one million people arrived in the EU in 2015, and under EU asylum law, it is the responsibility of the first member state into which migrants arrive to process asylum applications. The brunt of this responsibility has fallen on smaller member states such as Italy, and mainly Greece, which is simultaneously attempting to keep itself from bankruptcy. Consequently these states often allow migrants to pass through their borders to states who do not send them back.

Davutoglu at the London conference on Somalia in 2013, OGL.jpg
Davutoglu at the London conference on Somalia in 2013 – Public domain

The EU is struggling to accommodate this influx, due to a myriad of other factors, which include the ever-raging Greek economic crisis, the upcoming British in/out referendum, and a complex refugee and asylum policy system. The EU-Turkey refugee deal, agreed on the 18th March, aims to alleviate this pressure. Under this deal, Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu agreed that his country would receive migrants arriving in Greece from 20th March. In return, Ankara will receive €6 billion in aid, and EU accession talks for Turkey will be reopened. The crux of the deal is a ‘one-for-one’ scheme, which would see the EU resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every one migrant Turkey receives from Greece, until the figure of 72,000 people has been reached.

The first use of the deal took place on Monday 3rd April, when 202 refugees were deported from Greece to the Turkish port of Dikili. These refugees had either failed to apply for asylum, had had their applications rejected, or had signed up to return home voluntarily. Meanwhile, the first Syrian refugees from Turkey arrived in Germany under the ‘one-for-one’ scheme, and will be resettled in countries including Finland and the Netherlands.

The island of Lesbos seen from the coast of Dikili, CC BY-SA 3.0.jpg
The island of Lesbos seen from the coast of Dikili – licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The deal has been blasted by the UN as flawed, and has generally been controversial for a number of reasons. For one, its legal status is questionable, requiring an overhaul of both Greek and Turkish asylum law in order not to be in breach of the EU’s non-refoulement principle – wherein asylum-seeking refugees cannot be sent back to states where their safety and human rights would be compromised. It poses a huge administrative challenge in both Greece and Turkey, who must work through a backlog of thousands of asylum applications. Every refugee has the right to file an application to seek asylum, but human rights groups fear that because of the backlog, some asylum-seekers may be deported without having had time to formally apply. This fear is consolidated by the relative lack of translators and interpreters in Greece, who can make refugees aware of their right to apply. All refugees who are being returned may appeal the decision, remaining in Greece until the appeal is completed.

The deal also carries some serious ethical implications. Returning refugees may naturally prove uncooperative, and ‘hotspots’ – those areas which register and sort migrants – must now detain them as well. This is an image that poses a stark contrast to that of an EU that likes to portray itself as a normative power, committed to upholding the core principles of peace, liberty, democracy, rule of law and human rights in its international dealings. The deal on paper raises some serious questions, and its implementation is what we must look to for answers, one way or another.

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