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5 Things to know about Europe’s refugee deal with Turkey

Friday, March 11, 2016  | 

This week EU leaders held a summit with Turkey’s Prime Minister Davutoglu to hammer out a deal in order to stem the unprecedented number of migrants flooding Greece and Europe’s shores. The deal that was struck is not yet concluded, and must gain the approval of EU member states at a summit March 17-18. EU leaders claim the potential deal is a “game changer”, but the details are not agreed yet, and there are serious doubts about whether it is practical, or even legal. Below are 5 things you should know about the deal and its impact on Greece:


Essentially Turkey has agreed to take back Syrian refugees in Greece, and in exchange, Europe will find a home for one Syrian asylum seeker in Turkey in what is being called the “one in, one out scheme”. This would theoretically dissuade migrants from attempting the dangerous crossing from Turkey to Greece. In addition to the legal and moral issues, a host of questions remain unanswered, such as how many people will be exchanged, when will it start, and which EU countries will take in the refugees from Turkey. The deal applies only to Syrians. Afghans, Pakistanis, and other nationalities not eligible for asylum in the EU will be sent back to Turkey under another aspect of the deal.


 Prime Minister Davutoglu, with the backing of President Erdogan, drove a hard bargain in Brussels, and may win major concessions from the EU in the process. In return for taking back Syrian refugees, Turkey demanded concessions on visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU, €3 billion of promised EU aid could be doubled, and that preparations could be made to reopen closed chapters in Turkey’s EU accession talks. In its desperation to enlist Turkish support in stemming the flow of migrants, the EU seems to turn a blind eye to civic and human rights violations going on in Turkey as well.  Of particular concern is the recent government shutdown and seizure of Zaman, the country’s largest newspaper, which the EU failed to condemn.


The proposed deal is yet to be finalized, as leaders continue to work on it ahead of a summit on 17-18 of March in Brussels. Certain EU countries have expressed doubts over aspects of the deal. For example, Cyprus has stated that Turkey cannot use its role in the refugee crisis to ask for exchanges as regards its EU accession, while Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban rejected the idea of resettling refugees directly from Turkey. If a deal is reached and agreed upon it could take months to realize full-scale implementation. EU states would also need to help Greece, but so far assistance with existing deals, such as the EU relocation scheme, has been minimal. Recent developments in the Balkans do not indicate an improved appetite to help.


The UN has raised concerns with the EU’s grand bargain with Turkey stating that the proposal to return tens of thousands of migrants “en masse” from Greece to Turkey is likely to violate international law. Roughly 90% of migrants arriving in Greece say they are fleeing conflict, primarily from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. Under international law, each person’s case must be heard on an individual basis, not as a group. The second difficulty, UN officials have said, is that while returns can be legal, people can only be sent back to a country that is safe, able to care for them, give them full access to work, to education, to healthcare, and, most important of all, take responsibility for processing the individual’s asylum claim. Until now, the EU has not returned people to Turkey since it hasn’t viewed Turkey as what’s called a “safe third country”.


As Europe debates the details of the deal, migrants continue to arrive at Greece’s shores looking to continue to Northern and Central European countries. Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia announced new border restrictions designed to restrict the flow of migrants this week, while FYROM completely closed its border to migrants, effectively trapping them at the Greece-FYROM border for the foreseeable future. The latest estimates indicate more than 14,000 refugees are camped at Idomeni, the Greek border town where migrants are stranded, in deplorable conditions, while the total number of migrants trapped in Greece rose to approximately 42,000. Greece is struggling to move people to shelters with better living conditions. Recent news from Turkey has complicated matters as well. Turkey’s EU Minister Volkan Bozkir said Turkey will not readmit refugees who are already in Greece, insisting that the one in one out scheme will only take effect following the deal’s implementation.

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