Cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee
(a) Commission Communication: Fourth report on the progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement
(b) Commission report: Sixth report on the progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement
(a) and (b)—
(a) (38374), 15399/16 + ADDs 1–2, COM(16) 792
(b) (38842), 10294/17 + ADDs 1–2, COM(17) 323
30.1At the height of the refugee and migration crisis in 2015, some 856,700 individuals crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. This trend continued in the early part of 2016. Around 125,000 individuals made the crossing in the first two months, averaging 2,000 arrivals a day. By June 2016, the numbers reaching Greece had fallen by 98%. This reduction has been sustained in 2017, with fewer than 12,500 migrants and refugees arriving in Greece by mid-August. The drop in numbers is in large part a result of a deal between the EU and Turkey brokered in March 2016 which sought to “break the link between getting in a boat and getting settlement in Europe”.
30.2At 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 intending to seek asylum in Greece or elsewhere in the EU. The deal is based on the assumption that most 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 and readmit returned migrants 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 and refugees 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.
30.3The Commission publishes regular progress reports on the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal. Our predecessors considered the Commission’s fourth progress report—document (a)—in March. They invited the Government to respond to criticisms made by Amnesty International in its report, A Blueprint for Despair: Human Rights Impact of the EU-Turkey Deal which questioned whether returns to Turkey were “in line with EU and international law” and suggested that the use of fast-track asylum procedures was based on “the untrue, but wilfully ignored, premise, that Turkey is a safe country for refugees and asylum seekers”. They also sought further information on the deployment of UK officials to Greece and the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children transferred to the UK from Greece under the EU’s family reunification rules (the Dublin III Regulation) and the “Dubs scheme” (section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016).
30.4In his response of 3 August, the Immigration Minister (Brandon Lewis) reiterates the Government’s view that “Turkey is safe for returning third country nationals” and offers “sufficient protection, in both its law and its practice, to justify the return of migrants from Greece under the EU-Turkey agreement”. He does not tell us how many unaccompanied asylum seeking children have been transferred from Greece to the UK, referring us instead to the Migration Statistics Quarterly Report published by the Office for National Statistics in May which, as far as we can tell, does not include this information. He says that the Government has announced the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children to be transferred to the UK under the Dubs scheme and “remains committed to working with France, Greece and Italy to transfer children under section 67 up to the specified number of 480”. The Minister assures us that:
“[…] we take very seriously our commitment to supporting Greece and Turkey to implement the EU-Turkey deal in an effective and sustainable way which ensures that all migrants and refugees are treated in accordance with EU and international law.”
30.5The Minister also provides an Explanatory Memorandum on the Commission’s sixth progress report—document (b)—which was published in June. He highlights the “significant impact” that the EU-Turkey deal has had in reducing the flow of irregular migrants from Turkey to Greece and makes clear that the Government intends to play “a leading role in its implementation” through the deployment of staff to Greece, the provision of expertise and Border Force vessels, close law enforcement cooperation, and financial and humanitarian support for refugees in Turkey and the wider Mediterranean region.
30.6We welcome the Minister’s assurance that the Government is closely monitoring the situation in Turkey and his commitment to ensuring that all migrants and refugees affected by the EU-Turkey deal are treated in accordance with EU and international law. It is nevertheless concerning that NGOs operating on the ground continue to raise serious concerns about reception conditions on the Greek islands and the impact of fast-track asylum procedures on the most vulnerable. It is disappointing that the concerns expressed by NGOs are not addressed in the Commission’s own progress reports or in the Government’s Explanatory Memoranda commenting on them. We remain to be convinced of the need to use fast-track inadmissibility procedures for Dublin family reunification cases and for vulnerable asylum applicants on the Greek islands, given the need for sensitive handling and more extensive procedural safeguards.
30.7The Minister has not given us a clear answer on the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children transferred to the UK from Greece under the Dublin family reunification rules or the “Dubs scheme” since the EU-Turkey deal took effect in March 2016. We ask him to do so.
30.8We are content to clear documents (a) and (b) from scrutiny but draw this chapter to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee.
30.9The main elements of the EU-Turkey deal are:
30.10The 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.
30.11Our predecessors noted that the Amnesty International report was at odds with the view expressed by the then Immigration Minister (Mr Robert Goodwill) in February that individuals returned to Turkey from the Greek islands on the grounds that their claims for international protection were inadmissible would be treated “in accordance with EU law”. They asked him to:
30.12The Minister (Brandon Lewis) responds:
“As the Government has previously noted, the agreement reached will be carried out in line with EU and international law requirements and the principle of non-refoulement. We believe this remains the case; the EU Asylum Procedures Directive allows Member States in certain circumstances to declare an application ‘inadmissible’, that is to say, to reject the application without examining the substance. The functioning of the agreement continues to be monitored by a number of parties, including the Commission, Member States and UNHCR.”
30.13He says that the Government has closely monitored the situation in Turkey since the attempted coup in July 2016 and that “to date, there has not been any evidence of deterioration in the protections or conditions available to refugees”. He therefore believes Turkey to be safe for returning third country nationals:
“Turkey has a comprehensive legal framework for protection claims, has committed itself to respecting the principle of non-refoulement, and offers asylum seekers access to basic services, including employment, education and healthcare. As of May, 600,000 refugees in Turkey had been supported by the Emergency Social Safety Net, the Facility for Refugees in Turkey’s flagship humanitarian programme, and planned changes are expected to increase this number to 1.3m. Turkey already ably hosts over 3 million refugees, and the UK believes that it offers sufficient protection, in both its law and its practice, to justify the return of migrants from Greece under the EU-Turkey agreement. ‘Adequate’ protection is not defined by, or required to be equivalent to, the standards met by individual EU Member States.”
30.14Turning to the view of the UN Refugee Agency, he makes clear that “this would be a matter for the Agency to respond to” but adds that “there is no published opinion from UNHCR that Turkey is not a safe third country” and that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has “frequently praised Turkey for its role in hosting Syrians”.
30.15The Minister describes how the UK has sought, over the years, to help Turkey establish itself as a safe country:
“We have supported their coast guard capability and provided bespoke training to develop their governance and processing for readmissions and enhance their asylum system. A MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] was signed earlier this year between the UK and Turkey on migration to cement this progress, and we continue to support Turkey and their capacity building; we have programmed and funded projects focusing on law enforcement and migration agencies in recent years and will continue to do so.”
30.16Our predecessors noted that the Joint Action Plan drawn up by the EU Coordinator for the Implementation of the EU-Turkey deal encouraged 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”. They asked whether the Government considered it appropriate to use fast-track procedures for vulnerable applicants, such as asylum-seeing children, or for more complex family reunification cases which may require particularly sensitive handling.
30.17The Minister responds:
“The Government agrees that there may be cases that are not appropriate for the procedure, however it does not mean blanket vulnerability criteria should apply; any vulnerability process needs to be robust and resistant to abuse. Both Greece and Turkey now have vulnerability procedures. Indeed, Turkey has formulated boards consisting of relevant authorities in each province to assess vulnerability of returnees from Greece and all migrants registered in the country. Vulnerability criteria were mostly related to health problems but the Turkish authorities reassured us that their assessment policy has become much more comprehensive including issues such as sexual orientation, gender based violence and mental health issues.”
30.18The Amnesty International report questioned whether it was possible, in practice, to monitor the treatment of individuals returned under the EU-Turkey deal. The Government was asked to explain what mechanisms were in place to ensure that those returned to Turkey were treated in accordance with EU and international law. The Minister says that “EU authorities and UK Home Office officials have verified that processing complies with the required standards” and refers us to his Explanatory Memoranda on the Commission’s fifth and sixth progress reports for further details.
30.19Our predecessors noted that the Government had pledged a number of staff to assist Greece. They requested further details of the numbers deployed on the ground so far, what they were doing and how long they would remain in situ and sought “some indication of their experiences and insights so far which would help to enrich our understanding of conditions in Greece”. The Minister again refers us to his Explanatory Memoranda on the Commission’s fifth and sixth progress reports (see paragraph 32 below) but declines to provide further details of the work undertaken by UK officials in Greece “due to its inherently sensitive and confidential nature”. He adds:
“I am proud of the feedback received from EASO [the European Asylum Support Office] and the Greek authorities affirming that the UK experts are valued for their knowledge, expertise and professionalism in an often difficult working environment.”
30.20The Government had previously indicated that the UK had seconded one official to Greece to assist with the identification of unaccompanied asylum seeking children who may be eligible for transfer to the UK under the Dublin family reunification rules or under the “Dubs scheme”. Our predecessors asked the Government how many unaccompanied asylum-seeking children had been transferred to the UK from Greece and how many were in the pipeline. They also asked whether the Government had made an assessment of the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Greece likely to be affected by the closure of the Dubs scheme.
30.21Turning first to unaccompanied asylum seeking children transferred from Greece to the UK, or in the pipeline, the Minister comments:
“In line with promises made in 2016 to provide public information on this issue and in addition to information provided in the debate on 22 March, we published updated information in the quarterly Immigration Statistics on 25 May 2017.”
30.22As regards the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children present in Greece who were likely to be affected by the closure of the Dubs scheme, the Minister comments:
“The legislation is clear that the Government has the obligation to specify the number of children to be relocated and to relocate that number of children to the UK. The Government has announced that the number of children to be transferred under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 is 480. In March 2017 we published the criteria under which additional transfers of unaccompanied children from Europe will take place. […] we remain committed to working with France, Greece and Italy to transfer children under section 67 up to the specified number of 480.
“[…] As of June 2017, according to the National Center for Social Solidarity in Greece (EKKA), there were estimated to be 2,200 unaccompanied children present in Greece. The Greek definition of unaccompanied children includes separated children who may have other family members in Greece and married children. In total, 574 are eligible for relocation and 365 have been relocated to other Member States. However not all of the remaining children would be eligible for transfer to the UK under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 as to be eligible children must have been present in Europe prior to 20 March 2016, and it must be determined, following individual assessment, that it would be in the child’s best interests to come to the UK rather than remain in their host country, be transferred to another EU Member State, or to be reunited with family outside of Europe.”
30.23Finally, our predecessors asked the Government to explain:
30.24The Minister confirms that permanent coordinators for the hotspots have now been appointed and that “initial indications are that these appointments have improved conditions”. He refers us to his Explanatory Memorandum on the Commission’s sixth progress report for the remaining information (see below).
30.25The Commission’s sixth progress report, published in June, reviews all elements of the EU-Turkey deal. The Commission concludes that it continues to “deliver concrete results” through a reduction in dangerous and irregular crossings and lives lost in the Aegean, as well as substantial funding for refugees and their host communities in Turkey. The Commission also recognises that “push factors for migration to Europe remain” and that “continuing political determination” will be needed on both sides to ensure “the full and sustained implementation” of the EU-Turkey deal. We focus in this chapter on the “key challenges and next steps”.
30.26The Commission begins with an update on the current situation on the Greek islands. It notes that Turkey’s efforts to secure adequate reception and living conditions for the more than three million Syrian refugees it hosts, as well as actively patrolling to prevent departures and the confiscation of vehicles used for people smuggling, have contributed to a significant reduction in irregular crossings to Greece (averaging 52 arrivals a day in the three months between February and June) and in deaths at sea (105 fatalities since the EU-Turkey deal took effect compared with around 1,150 in the preceding year).
30.27The Commission says that the Joint Action Plan drawn up last December with the Greek authorities to support the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal has underpinned recent efforts to accelerate the asylum process, increase pre-removal and detention capacity on the Greek islands, ensure safety and security, upgrade reception facilities and improve living conditions, strengthen the protection of vulnerable groups (for example, by appointing child protection officers in each reception facility and hotspot) and step up the pace of returns to Turkey.
30.28Despite these efforts, substantial challenges remain.
30.29Turning to other elements of the EU-Turkey deal, the Commission reports that:
30.30The Minister shares the Commission’s view that the EU-Turkey deal is producing “tangible results despite challenging circumstances” and has had “a significant impact” in reducing the flow of irregular migrants from Turkey to Greece, adding:
“The numbers remain very low in comparison to summer 2015, in effect a reduction of 98%, and we agree with the Commission that continued efforts are needed to ensure continued delivery.”
30.31He highlights Turkey’s importance as “a key strategic partner in tackling migratory flows” and the UK’s “leading role” in supporting the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal. The UK, along with the Commission, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Frontex, is closely monitoring the situation in Turkey but has seen no evidence of a deterioration in the protection available to refugees. The Minister notes that Turkey has “changed its policy towards Syrians and Iraqis and introduced legislation allowing Syrians and non-Syrian refugees to work”, as well as providing schooling for over 500,000 Syrian children.
30.32Turning to the contribution made by the UK to the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal, the Minister explains:
“In May 2016 the UK announced a package of support to Greece consisting of up to 75 expert staff, including staff to interview arriving migrants, act as interpreters and support co-ordination through the European Commission team in Athens. The first UK staff arrived in Greece in May, and this pledge was fulfilled in January. In November 2016, we offered a second package of up to 40 expert staff over the winter period to support the inadmissibility process and ease congestion on the islands. This additional offer was fulfilled in March. In June, the UK announced that we would continue our long-running specialist deployments to the EU Commission team in Greece and provide further expert support to Greece and EASO on an on-going basis.
“The UK is therefore the fourth biggest contributor of resources to EASO in 2016, behind only Germany, France and the Netherlands. We have worked closely with both EASO and the Greek authorities to ensure that our staff are deployed where they can add the most value.
“Our principal commitment to date has been support to the ‘light touch’ admissibility interviews, which enable migrants to be returned to Turkey to have their claims for international protection processed there and, under the terms of the deal, should be applied to all arriving migrants. The process was initially only applied to Syrians due to Greek concerns over the treatment of non-Syrians in Turkey, but—in a move welcomed by the UK—was extended to Afghans, Iraqis and Eritreans in late 2016. However, Greece has recently adopted a two stage case-work procedure which also includes the eligibility process, i.e. substantive consideration of asylum claims. We are working to ensure that the implications of this change are fully understood.
“The UK has also provided expert advice to Greece, for example on security; controlled entry/exit systems for the migrant camps; and communications to support Assisted Voluntary Return campaigns on the Greek islands. We note the introduction of a cut-off date for AVR applications by the Greek government.
“Additionally, Border Force vessels have also provided vital search and rescue support in both the Mediterranean and Aegean since May 2015, rescuing over 12,000 migrants as part of wider efforts.
“The UK also continues to support regional work to tackle Organised Immigration Crime (OIC) and increase joint intelligence work to target gangs that exploit people for their own gain. In December 2016, close collaboration between the UK’s OIC Taskforce, law enforcement partners in Greece, and Europol resulted in the arrest of more than 20 individuals believed to be involved in smuggling hundreds of Iranian migrants from Iran to the UK. Arresting those 20 people smugglers not only meant that the lives of hundreds of migrants were not put at risk, but a clear signal was sent to other criminal gangs that we are serious about cracking down on this activity.”
30.33This contribution is supplemented by substantial funding:
“The UK has committed to provide £276 million—in addition to our contribution via the EU budget—to the £2.5 billion Facility for Refugees in Turkey which aims to improve conditions for refugees in Turkey and thus reduce the need for onward movement, including by increasing education, meeting humanitarian needs and creating economic opportunities.
“In addition to our humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in the region, the UK is also one of the largest bilateral donors to the Mediterranean Migration Crisis response, having already allocated £100 million—including more than £39 million for Greece—in humanitarian aid. The UK’s £10 million Refugee Children’s’ Fund supports 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 allows for the provision of shelter places for unaccompanied minors in Greece, which will reach 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.”
30.34Commenting on the other elements of the Commission report, the Minister “notes the state of play on Turkish—Schengen visa liberalisation, the upgrading of the Customs Union, EU relocation and resettlement schemes, and accession”. He continues:
“The UK remains committed to driving reform, embedding stability and addressing 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 and, even though the UK does not participate in Schengen or EU relocation and resettlement schemes, we welcome work that helps to enhance responsiveness to changing migration and security pressures.”
See our predecessors’ Thirty-third Report HC 71–xxxi (2016–17),(1 March 2017) on document (a).None on document (b).
364 See UNHCR’s of 17 August 2017 and on refugee and migrant sea arrivals in Europe, December 2016.
365 See the of 18 March 2016 and the of EU Heads of State or Government issued on 7 March 2016.
366 €1 = £0.84935 as at 1 February 2017.
367 See the , A Blueprint for Despair: Human Rights Impact of the EU-Turkey Deal.
368 See the published on 25 May 2017.
369 See the Government’s on section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 published on 10 March 2017.
370 See, for example, the published by Médecins Sans Frontières in March 2017: One Year On from the EU-Turkey Deal—Challenging the EU’s Alternative Facts.
371 See, in this regard, the Annex to document (b)—ADD 1—which sets out the progress made against the priority actions contained in the Joint Action Plan on the Implementation of the EU-Turkey deal.
372 €1 = £0.84935 as at 1 February 2017.
373 See, for example, p.6 of the Commission’s sixth progress report—document (b).
374 See para 56 of the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum on document (a).
375 See the published on 25 May 2017 and the on Schengen and EU-Turkey cooperation on migration which took place on 22 March 2017.
376 See the Government’s on section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 published on 10 March 2017.
377 See pp.14–15 of the Commission report.
378 For further details of the Joint Action Plan, see the Report listed at the end of this chapter.
379 See p.15 of the Commission report.
380 See p.15 of the Commission report.
381 See paras 1 and 39 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum on document (b).
382 See para 40 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.
383 See paras 40–46 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum on document (b).
384 See paras 47–8 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.
385 See para 49 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.
28 November 2017