EU steps up return procedures to Turkey while refugees are trapped in Greece
Thursday, 03 March 2016
The European Commission has announced that Greece is in the process of returning 308 irregular migrants to Turkey. The migrants are mainly of Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian origin.
According to the Commission´s announcement (2.3), “stepping up” the return procedures sends a clear signal that those who do not qualify for international protection will be quickly and effectively returned to their countries of origin or transit.
Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Under the EU-Turkey joint action plan we agreed to accelerate return and readmission procedures with Turkey. The European Commission has reinforced its support for cooperation on return between EU Member States and Turkey and today’s transfers of returnees from Greece to Turkey show that our efforts are starting to bear fruit.”
The Commission states that For the Common European Asylum System to work, a fully functioning return policy is crucial. It is for this reason that stepping up the cooperation on returns with Turkey is one of the key priorities of the European Commission.
Under the Joint EU-Turkey Action Plan, the EU and Turkey have committed to reinforcing cooperation on migration management, including through the prevention of irregular migration flows to the EU, and to accelerating readmission procedures for irregular migrants, in line with the established readmission provisions.
The entry into force of the provisions related to third country nationals will be advanced following an agreement between the EU and Turkey and are expected to enter into force as of 1 June 2016.
According to the UN Refugee Agency more than 2 000 migrants and refugees are arriving daily in Greece. More than 400 have drowned when crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece since the beginning of this year according to the International Organization for Migration.
When the European Commission presented a report (10.2) on the implementation of the Joint EU-Turkey Action Plan, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “I welcome the measures already taken by the Turkish authorities to stem irregular migratory flows, such as the opening of the labour market for Syrian refugees.”
He continued that “There should be no illusions that the refugee crisis will end before its root causes – notably continued war and atrocities in Syria – are addressed in a definite manner.”
Yesterday’s announcement by the Commission comes in the midst of unilateral measures taken by a number of member states and candidate countries in the Balkans to impose internal border controls, to reduce the number of refugees allowed to enter and to deny Afghan refugees the right to apply for asylum. Afghans make up about a third of the migrants entering Greece.
Trapped in Greece
The effect of these measures is that Greece – a front-line member state which continues to receive large numbers of migrants and refugees – risks becoming overwhelmed of the burden and excluded from the Schengen agreement on free movement in Europe. An earlier plan of relocation of 160 000 refugees had by mid-February only resulted in about 500 being moved from Italy and Greece to other member states.
According to International New York Times (3.2), refugee camps have been opening in Greece at the rate of nearly one a day. The Greek minister of immigration warned that up to 70 000 migrants could be trapped in Greece this month alone. The UN Refugee Agency warned about “a definite danger of a bad humanitarian situation taking hold in Greece”.
A crucial test for returning migrants and refugees to Turkey will occur later during this year when member states will complete the processing of the asylum applications from those hundreds of thousands who made their way from Turkey to Greece and then continued along the Balkan route.
As the average acceptance rate is 45 %, the majority will have their applications rejected, as Sweden already has announced. If refugees will be sent back to Turkey, the country has to meet the definition of “safe third country”. Turkey has not fully ratified the Geneva Refugee Convention and gives only temporary protection to non-European refugees.
As regards Greece, the Dublin Agreement on first asylum country has been temporarily suspended. According to a Commission Recommendation (10.2) there are key areas in the asylum process that need to be improved before the Dublin Regulation can be fully applied to Greece again. The Commission has asked Greece to report on progress in March in improving the reception capacity and conditions.