Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee
Commission Communication: Fourth Report on the Progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement
(38374), 15399/16 + ADDs 1–2, COM(16) 792
11.1According to the EU’s External Borders Agency, Frontex, there were 885,386 reported illegal border crossings on the Eastern Mediterranean route in 2015, mostly between Turkey and the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. In the first two months of 2016, average daily arrivals on the islands were approaching 2,000. In March 2016, EU leaders issued a Statement, usually referred to as the EU-Turkey deal, setting out nine “action points” to end irregular migration from Turkey to the EU. Their aim was to “break the link between getting in a boat and getting settlement in Europe”. The Commission believes that the “substantial reduction” in these numbers and in deaths at sea confirms “the core strategy” underpinning the EU-Turkey deal. By the final months of 2016, the numbers reaching the Aegean islands averaged around 81 a day.
11.2At the heart of the EU-Turkey deal is a commitment by Turkey to readmit all new irregular migrants crossing the Aegean to the Greek islands on or after 20 March 2016, including those seeking asylum in Greece. The deal is based on the assumption that asylum applications made on arrival in Greece will be declared “inadmissible” on the grounds that Turkey is a safe country for those in need of international protection. The deal strengthens the incentives for Turkey to stem irregular departures through the provision of substantial EU funding—up to €6 billion (£5.1 billion) by the end of 2018—to improve the humanitarian situation of displaced Syrians within Turkey, and through a commitment made by Member States to resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands. Further details of the deal are set out later in the Background section of this chapter.
11.3The Commission publishes regular progress reports on the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal. In its fourth report, published in early December 2016, the Commission underlines the “steady delivery of results, albeit in the face of many challenges”—not least the fact that Greece is coping with more than 62,000 irregular migrants (around 16,000 on the Greek islands). The Commission cautions against complacency, noting that conditions on the Greek islands are deteriorating and that the pace of returns is too slow. It says there is an urgent need to accelerate returns “in full compliance with EU and international rules” and calls for concerted action by the Greek authorities, Member States and EU Agencies to ensure the effective processing of asylum applications on the Greek islands.
11.4The Immigration Minister (Mr Robert Goodwill) reiterates the Government’s commitment to implementing the EU-Turkey deal “in an effective and sustainable way”, describing it as “an important opportunity to effectively manage migratory flows, tackle the issue of people smugglers, and prevent migrants from making perilous crossings.” He agrees with the Commission’s assessment that the EU-Turkey deal has had “a significant impact” in reducing the flow of irregular migrants from Turkey to Greece and that “continued efforts are need to accelerate implementation”. He is keen to “make the overall system work faster” through the use of “fast track” admissibility procedures, adding:
“We have been assured that those deemed inadmissible and therefore eligible for return to Turkey will be treated in accordance with EU law.”
11.5The Minister expects to make available “up to 40 extra staff over the winter period to support the asylum processes and ease congestion on the islands”. He notes that the UK has seconded an official to Greece to help identify unaccompanied asylum seeking children who may be eligible to come to the UK under the Dublin rules or under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 (the “Dubs scheme”). The Minister adds that the UK is “closely monitoring the situation in Turkey” and says “there has not been any evidence of deterioration in the protections or conditions available to refugees”.
11.6Nearly a year on from the EU-Turkey deal taking effect, this latest Commission Communication provides a good opportunity to take stock, not least because the EU is keen to replicate this model in its relations with other third countries, notably Libya. A recent Report by Amnesty International, A Blueprint for Despair: Human Rights Impact of the EU-Turkey Deal questions the central premise that returns to Turkey are “in line with EU and international law”. It says that the use of fast-track asylum procedures to return individuals in need of international protection to Turkey is based on “the untrue, but wilfully ignored, premise, that Turkey is a safe country for refugees and asylum seekers”. This is at odds with the assurance relied on by the Minister that individuals returned to Turkey “will be treated in accordance with EU law”. We ask the Minister to explain the factual basis for this assurance. Does the UN Refugee Agency accept that Turkey is a safe country for returned asylum seekers or refugees and is he satisfied that there is no risk of refoulement—involuntary return—from Turkey to unsafe third countries?
11.7The Commission underlines the need to speed up the processing of asylum applications in order to ease congestion on the Greek islands and increase the pace of returns to Turkey. The Joint Action Plan drawn up by the EU Coordinator for the Implementation of the EU-Turkey deal encourages the Greek Asylum Service to examine, “on a case by case basis”, the use of fast-track inadmissibility procedures for Dublin family reunification cases and for vulnerable applicants “with a view to their possible return to Turkey”. The Minister expresses the Government’s support for the use of these fast-track procedures which “make the overall system work faster”. Does he consider that it is appropriate to use these procedures for vulnerable applicants, such as asylum-seeking children, or for more complex family reunification cases which may require particularly sensitive handling?
11.8The Commission reports that Syrians returned to Turkey from Greece are flown to a refugee camp in Duzicic, whereas non-Syrians are taken by boat and land to a removal centre in Kirklareli. It says that the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the EU Delegation to Turkey have visited both sites. The Amnesty International report cites a leaked letter in which UNHCR says it has not been granted unhindered access to these sites, nor does it receive “systematic information from the Turkish authorities on the legal status and location of individuals readmitted to Turkey from Greece” and that this has “hampered its ability to monitor their treatment”. The Minister tells us that “there has not been any evidence of deterioration in the protections or conditions available to refugees” in Turkey. We ask him to explain what mechanisms are in place to ensure that individuals returned under the EU-Turkey deal are treated in accordance with EU and international law.
11.9The Minister tells us that the UK pledged “up to 75 expert staff” to assist Greece last year and is “actively engaging with the European Asylum Support Office and the Greek authorities to plan these future deployments”. He adds that the UK will provide “up to 40 extra staff over the winter period” to support the asylum process. We ask the Minister to confirm precisely how many UK staff have been deployed on the ground so far, what they are doing and how long they will remain in situ. We would also very much welcome some indication of their experiences and insights so far which would help to enrich our understanding of conditions in Greece.
11.10We note that the Government has seconded one official to Greece to identify unaccompanied asylum seeking children who may be eligible for transfer to the UK under the Dublin family reunification rules or under the “Dubs scheme”. Can the Minister tell us how many unaccompanied asylum seeking children have been transferred to the UK from Greece so far, and how many are in the pipeline? Has the Government made an assessment of the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children in Greece likely to be affected by the closure of the Dubs scheme?
11.11We ask the Minister to explain whether:
11.12Pending further information, the Communication remains under security. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee.
11.13The main elements of the EU-Turkey deal are:
11.14The EU-Turkey deal acknowledges the risk that enhanced cooperation on irregular migration in the Aegean may have a displacement effect, opening up new migration routes to the EU. Turkey is expected to take “any necessary measures” to prevent the opening of new sea or land routes.
11.15The Commission reviews all elements of the EU-Turkey deal. We focus in this chapter on the “key challenges and next steps”.
11.16The Commission reports that in the eight months before the EU-Turkey deal took effect, 865,425 irregular migrants reached the Greek islands from Turkey and there were 592 deaths at sea. During the following eight months (from April to November 2016), arrivals fell to 22,238 and there were 63 recorded fatalities. Despite this substantial reduction in the number of arrivals and deaths at sea, significant challenges remain:
11.17In an attempt to make headway in tackling these challenges, the EU Coordinator for the Implementation of the EU-Turkey deal has drawn up a Joint Action Plan with the Greek authorities (see the Annex to the Commission Communication, ADD 1). Its purpose is to accelerate the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal and to “eliminate the backlog of asylum cases on the Greek islands by April 2017”. The Joint Action Plan contains 23 actions which are intended to:
11.18Turning to the other elements of the EU-Turkey deal, the Commission reports that:
11.19The Minister describes the UK’s “leading role” in supporting Greece to implement the EU-Turkey deal, adding:
“In May the UK announced a package of support to Greece consisting of up to 75 expert staff as follows: 40 experts to support admissibility interviews on the Greek Islands, working to the EASO [European Asylum Support Office]; 25 Interpreters to support these interviews as part of the EASO mission; and 10 posts to support the EU Commission team co-ordinating activity in Athens. We remain committed to fulfilling our full offer of 75 staff and are actively engaging with EASO and the Greek Authorities to plan these future deployments.”
11.20He shares the Commission’s concern that the processing and return of irregular migrants to Turkey is too slow, commenting:
“Many of the key systems and processes are now in place to enable quicker processing and returns but far greater effort is needed to identify those in genuine need of international protection as distinct from economic migrants, to make the overall system work faster, and to overcome the practical and legal barriers that are preventing removals taking place.”
11.21The Minister highlights overcrowding on the Greek islands as a “particular concern”. He continues:
“We note Greek assurances that they are already addressing this issue, including a move to interview the vast majority of Syrians under admissibility (c.3000 cases) as laid out in the Asylum Procedures Directive. We have been assured that those deemed inadmissible and therefore eligible for return to Turkey will be treated in accordance with EU law.
“Given the overcrowding and resulting security issues, the Greeks have also recently moved to ‘light touch’ admissibility interviews allowed under the Asylum Procedures Directive. Under the terms of the deal, these fast track procedures should be applied to all arriving migrants but have so far only been applied to Syrians. Until recently, Iraqis and Afghans (both over 25% asylum grant rates), were not being processed. The Greeks have now indicated that they will trial inadmissibility with Afghan, Iraqi and Eritrean nationals in the coming months.”
11.22The Minister underlines the need to speed up the processing of non-Syrian migrants, adding:
“We support Greece’s work to address this situation and continue to encourage the application of the deal in full. We welcome the Greek Government’s decision to trial the admissibility process to accelerate processing on the islands through a fast track admissibility process. This should quickly identify those who can be moved to the mainland for full processing and those to be returned to Turkey, thereby increasing the number of returns to Turkey under the terms of the deal.
“Given this priority, the UK will provide an additional package of support to Greece. This will include up to 40 extra staff over the winter period to support the asylum processes and ease congestion on the islands. This includes providing flow management, case-workers and interpreters, and ideally as soon as possible in 2017 to enable the processing of a significant proportion of non-Syrian nationals currently on the islands over the winter period.”
11.23The Minister describes the UK’s wider role in the Aegean and its support for efforts to crack down on organised immigration crime:
“Border Force (BF) has also been participating in Frontex operation POSEIDON in the Aegean, a separate operation which pre-dates the EU-Turkey deal. HMC PROTECTOR is currently deployed amid the Greek islands and since May 2015 has been providing direct support to rescue operations in the Aegean. In response to Frontex calls for more support in the region, we are sending an additional cutter HMC VALIANT to the Aegean. She is currently en route to the Mediterranean and expected to commence operations in mid-January.
“The UK is also playing a leading role in tackling organised immigration crime and increasing joint intelligence work to target gangs that exploit people for their own gain. In June 2015, the former Prime Minister announced the creation of the Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce, which brings together officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA), BF, Immigration Enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to exploit every opportunity at source, in transit countries and in Europe to identify and tackle organised crime groups. Working closely with international partners, the Taskforce has already successfully disrupted crime groups involved in immigration crime by participating in intelligence development and sharing, as well as arrests and prosecutions.”
11.24The Minister sets out the financial assistance provided by the UK to Greece:
“The UK has also established a £10 million Refugee Children’s Fund to support the needs of vulnerable refugee and migrant children arriving in Europe. The fund includes targeted support to meet the specific needs of unaccompanied and separated children. This funding will allow for the provision of shelter places for unaccompanied minors in Greece, reaching up to 550 places over the course of the programme. These shelters provide much more than just a roof over a child’s head, they are staffed around the clock by professionals and the children are offered psychosocial support as well as legal assistance and other activities.
“We have also been working closely with Greece to identify unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who may be eligible for the transfer of their asylum claim to the UK where they have close family here, and are working with Greece to identify unaccompanied refugee children in line with Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016. We have a UK secondee working in Greece on this.”
11.25The Minister notes that the UK does not participate in EU relocation measures and resettlement schemes and opposes “mandatory burden-sharing”. He sets out the action taken by the Government on the basis of national resettlement programmes:
“The UK has committed to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees from the region by 2020, along with an additional 3,000 children. A total of 4,414 people have been granted humanitarian protection under the Syrian VPRS [Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme] since the scheme began (and up to September 2016), and in the 12 months to the end of September 2016, 4,162 people were resettled under the Syrian VPRS across 175 different local authorities. Around half (49%) of those resettled under the Syrian VPRS were under 18 years old (2,059), and around half (48%) were female (1,989). This is in addition to those who we resettle under the Gateway and Mandate schemes and the thousands who have received protection in the UK under normal asylum procedures. In the year ending September 2016, an additional 715 people were also resettled in the UK under the Gateway Protection Programme and the Mandate Scheme.”
11.26The Minister says that the UK, along with the Commission, EASO and Frontex, is “closely monitoring the situation in Turkey, especially as Turkey continues to be a key strategic partner in tackling migratory flows and in helping implement the deal”. He continues:
“There has not been any evidence of deterioration in the protections or conditions available to refugees.”
11.27The Minister does not consider that there has been any significant displacement of irregular migration from the Eastern Mediterranean (Turkey to Greece) to the Central Mediterranean (North Africa to Italy):
“Migrants using the Central Mediterranean route are largely from Sub-Saharan Africa, whereas migrants that used the Eastern Mediterranean route were largely from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. We do not see these nationalities arriving in Italy via North Africa in significant numbers.”
11.28The Minister expects progress to be made on visa liberalisation with Turkey now that the EU has agreed a new visa suspension mechanism which should “enhance responsiveness to changing migration and security pressures”. He makes clear that the UK does not participate in (and will not be bound by) EU visa rules.
11.29The UK has committed to provide over €328 million (£280.82 million) to the EU’s Refugee Facility for Turkey. The Minister welcomes the Commission’s suggestions for speeding up the delivery of EU funding and says the UK will watch developments closely.
11.30On the process governing Turkey’s accession to the EU, the Minister notes:
“The UK remains committed to driving reform, embedding stability and addressing shared challenges such as security and migration in the Western Balkans and Turkey. The UK will continue to support countries committed to the accession process in meeting the necessary requirements.”
11.31He sets out the contribution made by the UK to humanitarian support in Syria and the wider region:
“UK support has reached millions of people with vital humanitarian assistance, as well as with longer-term support. From the beginning of our response to the crisis in February 2012 to August 2016 (latest available figures), our support in Syria and the region had delivered:
11.32The Minister says that the Commission’s fourth progress report was considered at the December Justice and Home Affairs Council. A fifth progress report will be published in March.
None on this document, but see our earlier Report on EU-Turkey cooperation on migration: Thirtieth Report HC 342-xxix (2015–16),(27 April 2016). See also our Report on the Commission Communication, First Report on the progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement: Third Report HC 71-ii (2016–17), (25 May 2016).
72 See .
73 See the of 18 March 2016.
74 See the of EU Heads of State or Government issued on 7 March 2016.
75 €1 = £0.84935 as at 1 February 2017.
76 See the , A Blueprint for Despair: Human Rights Impact of the EU-Turkey Deal.
77 €1 = £0.84935 as at 1 February 2017.
78 See p.3 of the Commission Communication.
3 March 2017