Migration Crisis Contents

7The EU Agreement with Turkey

117.Most of the migrants and refugees who entered the EU in 2015 arrived in Greece, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey. The Turkish authorities have frequently been criticised for not stopping the migrant boats before they left Turkish shores.152

118.The EU published a Joint Action plan with Turkey in October 2015, offering increased humanitarian aid to help manage the Syrian refugees in Turkey, in return for Turkey improving its efforts to reduce the flow of irregular migrants crossing the Aegean Sea. Negotiations continued over several months. In February 2016, the EU said that the migrant flows were still too high and called for “further, decisive efforts” from Turkey to reduce the number. Finally, on 18 March, the EU and Turkey reached an agreement, which included the following terms:

119.Concerns were expressed when the agreement was being negotiated about the legal and human rights implications of returning irregular migrants to Turkey, in exchange for Syrians being resettled from the refugee camps in Turkey. Peter Sutherland, the UN Secretary General’s special representative, said that it is against international law to deport an individual without giving them the opportunity to claim asylum and for their application to be considered, and that there need to be assurances that they will not be sent back to a country where their rights will not be protected.154 UNHCR, Médecins Sans Frontières, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Save the Children, and the Norwegian Refugee Council all announced their withdrawal from parts of Greece in protest at the conditions in which refugees and migrants were being detained.155

120.The first deportations took place on 4 April 2016.156 Questions remain about whether Turkey can be considered a safe third country for returns, given its human rights record. Amnesty International has alleged that Turkey has started to push Syrians back across the border into Syria. Nor is it clear whether Turkey is equipped to manage the numbers of migrants who being returned, and in particular whether deportees will be detained at designated centres or simply registered and then left to fend for themselves.157 It is already the case that most Syrians migrants in Turkey are not in refugee camps.

121.The Greek government has stated that it will require more resources to be able to process the number of asylum claims and has asked for 400 asylum experts from other EU countries to provide assistance.158 The UK Government announced in April that, following the agreement, it planned to send 75 personnel to Greece together with equipment and medical supplies, in support of the process.159

122.Concerns that the agreement would simply result in the migrant problem being displaced from Greece to other locations, and smugglers using different routes, seem to have been justified. When the agreement was reached in March, smuggling gangs were already said to be charging €5,000 for space on larger cargo and fishing vessels from southern Turkey to Italy, with other networks preparing to exploit the sea route from Albania to Italy, or across the Black Sea from Turkey to Bulgaria.160 As we have stated above, the high number of deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean since March have mainly involved people trying to cross from Egypt and Libya to Italy.

123.The EU-Turkey agreement reached in March 2016 has resulted in a 90% decrease in the numbers of migrants arriving in Greece. However, concerns about the humanitarian, human rights, logistical and legal implications should not be ignored and the challenge for both Greece and Turkey in processing and moving the large numbers of people who have already reached Greece remains considerable. It is only just and fair that the EU countries which supported the agreement with Turkey should assist by providing staff, financial support and equipment. The UK Government has already provided some support to Greece in the form of personnel and equipment. It should set out the ongoing contribution it plans to make, both through EU agencies while it remains a member of the EU, and bilaterally. Turkey got a good deal from the agreement with the EU and it would receive even greater credit from EU states if it did more to stop migrants crossing to Greece in the first place.

124.It was inevitable that the agreement to deport migrants back to Turkey from Greece would lead migrant smugglers to find other routes in the region which avoid Greece, and this has proved to be the case. There were hundreds of deaths of migrants making the crossing from North Africa to Italy during April and May and more deaths are likely during the high summer months. The EU needs to take immediate, collective and comprehensive steps to tackle the new problems created by the displacement of migrants to other routes avoiding Turkey and Greece, which were entirely foreseeable. Ultimately all action to close off irregular routes will be no more than partially successful, and sometimes counter-productive, particularly in the absence of sufficient safe and legal routes. We give some consideration to this issue in the next chapter in relation to protecting vulnerable groups, but the recommendations there are also more widely applicable.

152 ILPA written evidence (MIG0047)

154 The Guardian, 2 April 2016, EU-Turkey refugee plan could be illegal, says UN official

155 Foreign Policy, 31 March 2016, Take a country on the brink. Now add 10,000 asylum hearings a week

156 The Guardian, 4 April 2016, “First boats returning migrants and refugees from Greece arrive in Turkey”

157 Greek Reporter, 31 March 2016, Turkey not fully ready to take refugees back from Greece

158 The Guardian, 1 April 2016, EU-Turkey refugee deal: staff shortages and rights concerns pose twin threat

159 Home Office news story, 21 April 2016, “Immigration Minister confirms UK contribution to EU/Turkey deal”

160 The Independent, 30 March 2016, Refugee crisis: Arrivals rocket in Italy amid warnings Turkey deal could force migrants on more dangerous routes; Foreign Policy, 31 March 2016, Take a country on the brink. Now add 10,000 asylum hearings a week

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28 July 2016