On 4th April 2016 at dawn, the controversial Agreement on Migration between Turkey and the European Union concretely came into effect. The first wave of migrants quitted Lesvos, Greece, amid heavy security measures. 135 men, reportedly from Pakistan and Bangladesh, were boarded onto two ferries heading to Dikili, a nearby town on Turkey’s coast. While watched over by a NATO ship, the first transfers back to Turkey came as migrants and refugees continued reaching Greece’s shores: is Europe doing the right thing after all?
What is the agreement about?
As from 20th March, all migrants reaching the Greek soil illegally will face deportation to Turkey, unless they manage to apply for asylum or their claim is accepted. For every Syrian sent back to Turkey, another one in the country will be resettled directly to the EU. Meanwhile, Turkey promises to take measures in order to arrest new irregular migration routes, by sea or land, from Turkey to the EU. A Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme is supposed to take place once irregular sea crossing between Turkey and the EU will be almost over. Furthermore, the EU will initially disburse €3 billion under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey and, once these resources are about to be used in full, additional funding for the Facility up to an additional €3 billion to the end of 2018 will be provided. Last but not least, the EU and Turkey agreed on improving humanitarian conditions inside Syria.
More broadly speaking, the EU and Turkey furthered their cooperation on various matters. In particular, Turkey’s accession process to the European Union will be re-launched by tackling Chapter 33 of the acquis communautaire during the ongoing term of the Council of the EU. Other preparatory works for the opening of additional chapters will be speeded up, together with the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation roadmap. This roadmap aims at identifying the legislation and all other measures Turkey needs to adopt and implement, as well as the requirements it needs to fulfil to achieve visa liberalisation, namely a secure environment for visa-free travel.
As it has been advocated by The Economist, the deal’s principles are sound. On one hand, considering that most of the 1.2 million migrants arriving in the EU last year came via Turkey, this solution would control chaotic mass-migration, so to preserve a generous European asylum system and probably curb anti-immigrant populism and euroscepticism. On the other, it would enlist Turkey as a gatekeeper, bind the country more closely to Europe. Moreover, it would provide a way for Europe to seek Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s co-operation without flinching from criticising his increasingly autocratic behaviour.
Why are the watchdog organisations barking out?
Nevertheless, as pointed out by various humanitarian organisations, every element of this agreement entails political, legal or moral issues. Amnesty International, Human Right Watch (HRW) and the United Nations’ Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have repeatedly expressed their concern in the last days.
According to Kenneth Roth, HRW Executive Director, the plan itself has an internal contradiction due to the fact that these fast-track large-scale returns – effectively collective expulsions – hinder the possibility to determine whether a person needs international protection. Furthermore, while welcoming the resettlement mechanism planned for Syrian refugees, Roth warns against the risks that this might entail because, even if it could be a helpful supplement to asylum, this should not be a valuable substitute for the right to seek asylum under any circumstances. Last but not least, EU proposal for a joint endeavour to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria, says Roth, clearly aims at containing the flow of displaced people, rather than genuinely protecting Syrian civilians from harm.
On this last point, a recent research conducted by Amnesty International cast light on the appalling operations led by Turkish authorities in Turkey’s southern border provinces. Last month, researchers from the organisation gathered multiple testimonies of large-scale returns from Hatay province and confirmed that, since mid-January, groups of around 100 Syrian men, women and children have been rounded up and expulsed to Syria on a near-daily basis. As it rounds up bluntly John Dalhuisen, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia programme: “Far from pressuring Turkey to improve the protection it offers Syrian refugees, the EU is in fact incentivizing the opposite”.