The EU-Turkey Agreement and the Refugee Status in Greece

Since the last trimester of 2015, the European Union and Turkey have been in formal conversations to discuss a possible solution to the migration crisis they both face. On March 19, the European Commission published a press release detailing the agreement both parties had reach and was in effect as of the next day. The agreement, “in line with EU and international law requirements and the principle of non-refoulement” (European Commission, 2016, Pg. 1), stated the following points:

“1) All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as of 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey;

2) For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled to the EU;

3) Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for irregular migration opening from Turkey to the EU;

4) Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU are ending or have been substantially reduced, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated;

5) The fulfillment of the visa liberalization roadmap will be accelerated with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016. Turkey will take all the necessary steps to fulfill the remaining requirements;

6) The EU will, in close cooperation with Turkey, further speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated €3 billion under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey. Once these resources are about to be used in full, the EU will mobilize additional funding for the Facility up to an additional €3 billion to the end of 2018;

7) The EU and Turkey welcomed the ongoing work on the upgrading of the Customs Union.

8) The accession process will be re-energized, with Chapter 33 to be opened during the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union and preparatory work on the opening of other chapters to continue at an accelerated pace;

9) The EU and Turkey will work to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria” (European Commission, 2016, Pg. 1).

The one of the main issues with this agreement is that it only contemplates Syrian asylum seekers that, according to UNHCR, represent 41% of the people entering Greece via the Aegean Sea route. The future of the other 59%⎯ comprised mostly by Afghans and Iraqis, as well as economic migrants and asylum seekers from South East Asia, Africa and Iran ⎯ remains unclear. Regarding this, the document that explains the agreement states: “People who do not have a right to international protection will be immediately returned to Turkey. The legal framework for these returns is the bilateral readmission agreement between Greece and Turkey. From 1 June 2016, this will be succeeded by the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement, following the entry into force of the provisions on readmission of third country nationals of this agreement” (European Commission, 2016, Pg. 2). Furthermore, “Only asylum seekers that will be protected in accordance with the relevant international standards and in respect of the principle of non-refoulement will be returned to Turkey” (European Commission, 2016, Pg. 2).

A first report on the results from the agreement was published on April 20th 2016, while a second one is set for June of this year. The first report stated that one of the main goals of the agreement, to stop irregular arrivals to Greece, is being achieved. “In the three weeks preceding the application of the EU-Turkey Statement to arrivals in the Greek islands, 26,878 persons arrived irregularly in the islands – in the three subsequent weeks 5,847 irregular arrivals took place. Smugglers are finding it increasingly difficult to induce migrants to cross from Turkey to Greece”. (European Commission, 2016, Pg 2). The document also states that the return of ineligible migrants and asylum seekers to Turkey has begun and that “In total, 1,292 migrants have been returned under the bilateral readmission agreement between Greece and Turkey in 2016, with most of return operations taking place in March” (European Commission, 2016, Pg 4). None of the returns mentioned has been of Syrian citizens. The readmission into Turkey of third country nationals will become applicable as soon as Turkish Parliament approves them. On the other hand, the report also states: “The first resettlements from Turkey following the Statement took place on 4-5 April when 74 Syrian asylum seekers were resettled to Germany, Finland and the Netherlands. A total of 103 Syrian nationals have now been resettled from Turkey to Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden”. (European Commission, 2016, Pg 7). Furthermore, “The resettlement under the 1:1 scheme will take place, in the first instance, by honouring the commitments taken by Member States in July 2015. As the Commission reported last week, there are still 16,800 places available out of the originally agreed 22,504, though part will be taken up by resettlements from Jordan and Lebanon” (European Commission, 2016, Pg 7). The report ends by detailing how much resources are being allocated to promote better conditions for asylum seekers in the European Union and Turkey, as well as the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria to prevent more people from fleeing the country.

Written by: Gabriela Benazar Acosta