EU and Turkey reach agreement on ending irregular migration

The European Union and Turkey have agreed on how to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU. The agreement at the European Summit yesterday (18 March) targets the people smugglers’ business model and removes the incentive to seek irregular routes to the EU, in full accordance with EU and international law.

In a joint EU-Turkey statement, the Members of the European Council expressed their deepest condolences to the people of Turkey following the bomb attack in Ankara last Sunday. “They strongly condemned this heinous act and reiterated their continued support to fight terrorism in all its forms.”

In the Council conclusions from the Summit, EU reiterated “that it expects Turkey to respect the highest standards when it comes to democracy, rule of law, respect of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.”

According to a fact sheet published by the European Commission, the EU and Turkey agreed that:

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 fulfilment of the visa liberalisation 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 fulfil the remaining requirements. (This requires Turkey to meet the remaining 37 benchmarks in the roadmap).

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 mobilise 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-energised, with Chapter 33 (financial and budgetary procedures) 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. (In December 2015, chapter 17 on Economic and monetary policies was opened. Turkey had demanded that 5 new chapters should be opened.)

9) The EU and Turkey will work to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria.

The European Commission explains that people who apply for asylum in Greece will have their applications treated on a case by case basis, in line with EU and international law requirements and the principle of non-refoulement (a principle of international law which forbids the return of a refugee to a country where he/she is persecuted).

There will be individual interviews, individual assessments and rights of appeal. There will be no blanket and no automatic returns of asylum seekers.

According to the Commission, the EU asylum rules allow Member States in certain clearly defined circumstances to declare an application “inadmissible”, that is to say, to reject the application without examining the substance.

There are two legal possibilities that could be envisaged for declaring asylum applications inadmissible, in relation to Turkey:

1) first country of asylum (Article 35 of the Asylum Procedures Directive): where the person has been already recognised as a refugee in that country or otherwise enjoys sufficient protection there;

2) safe third country (Article 38 of the Asylum Procedures Directive): where the person has not already received protection in the third country but the third country can guarantee effective access to protection to the readmitted person. 

 When applying the “safe third country” concept, any return decision is suspended automatically while the appeal is being treated.

When applying the “first country of asylum” concept, there is a possibility to make a request to suspend the transfer while the appeal is being treated.

The Commission estimates that Greece will need around 4,000 staff from Greece, Member States, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and FRONTEX to handle the asylum process, the appeals process, the return process and security in Greece.

As regards the migrants who are already in Greece, the Commission states that they will be relocated to EU Member States. The Greek authorities, EU Member States and EU Agencies will accelerate relocations from Greece and provide rapid humanitarian assistance to Greece.

In view of the emergency situation on the ground, the Commission writes that 6,000 relocations should be achieved within the next month and at least 20,000 relocations completed by mid-May 2016.

The Brussels Times

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