The EU-Turkey Agreement about the readmission of refugees reaching Greece via the Aegean Sea has been in force since Sunday. The Agreement envisions several strands of action:
- All migrants reaching Greece from Turkey after 20 March will be returned to Turkey once their asylum application has been rejected. Readmission will start on 4 April.
- To handle asylum cases faster, yet still individually, the Agreement means that Turkey will be deemed a safe third country to allow for legal readmission of refugees from Greece – a decision that some perceive as debatable.
- In a next step, the EU guaranteed to legally resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every Syrian refugee being readmitted after crossing the Aegean Sea. For this scheme 18.000 resettlement places in the EU are envisioned which might be expanded up to 72.000, if need be.
- For upholding its part of the deal (readmission, securing the coastline etc.) Turkey will receive €6bn earmarked for the refugees it hosts, new chapters in the accession negotiations will be opened and the negotiations on visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU will be accelerated.
Human rights, legal and practical reservations
The media echo of this accord was – carefully phrased – rather mixed. Apart from human rights and legal reservations, I would like to point out some very practical issues that arise from it.
- Until recently, the Greek government seemed overwhelmed by the task of securing Schengen’s external border and allowed refugees to simply continue their journey northwards to Macedonia (often unregistered). Within a few days the required infrastructure not only for registration but also for rapidly handling asylum applications in the thousands now needs to be built. For this, about 4000 additional staff (border patrol, police, interpreters, lawyers etc.) are desperately needed. Whoever followed the unimaginable enthusiasm with which the Member States have so far assigned national staff to Frontex and EASO (European Asylum Support Office) may rightly doubt a timely implementation of this plan.
- How to choose the people that are to be resettled in the EU? Originally, there were talks about the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) implementing resettlement since UNHCR has experience in running such a scheme on a global scale. Yet, it is still unclear in how far this mechanism can be applied in Turkey given the fact that, i.a., the large majority of its 2.7m Syrian refugees don’t live in the camps but are scattered all over the Turkish cities.
- Another question is what will happen to Iraqi and Afghan refugees, since only Syrians are currently foreseen to participate in resettlement. Will the EU Member States resort to declaring Iraq and Afghanistan “safe countries of origin”?
- Finally, nobody knows where the 72.000 resettlement places in the EU (a ridiculously tiny number to begin with) should come from. Just remember how awfully slowly the relocation of 160.000 people – agreed on in September 2015 – is still going…
First results? Negative.
“Authorities said that 1,662 people had arrived on Greek islands by 7am Monday, a day after the official implementation of the deal, twice the count of the day before.“ (The Independent)
Until the resettlement from Turkey into the EU and a corresponding distribution is sorted out, the effects of the Agreement between the EU and Turkey remain dubious. There is very little incentive for Turkey to readmit refugees before experiencing relief through legal resettlement.
For the refugees this deal does not change much as long as it’s not effective. By now more than 50.000 asylum seekers are trapped in Greece, 12.000 alone in Idomeni at the Macedonian border. Under such circumstances it is a mere question of time when they will try to find a way around the closed border to continue their journey. One possible route would lead eastwards through Bulgaria to spaciously bypass the fences. Alternatively, refugees might head westwards through mountainous Albania either to cross the Adrian Sea by boat to Italy or continue their journey north through Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina to Croatia.
Either way, we see that closed borders and fences only produce two results: They lead to shifting routes and to the outsourcing of the problem to the weakest link in the chain – Greece. In consequence, European politicians merely gain some time and a little room for manoeuvre, which they need to use constructively and with an eye on mid- to long-term solutions. Especially since in the meantime new countries of arrival, first and foremost Italy, gain attraction – and so do the services of smugglers and traffickers…
About the blog/Über den Blog: https://chrisbikes.wordpress.com/about-this-blog/
About me/Über mich: https://chrisbikes.wordpress.com/about/
The German Red Cross project/Das DRK-Projekt: https://chrisbikes.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/in-the-name-of-humanity-the-drks-assistance-for-refugees/