More than lawyering 2017-06-05T02:09:12+00:00

More than lawyering…

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Articles

Turkey: Key Player in the EU Refugee Solution

by Z. Can Gürvit

The term “irregular migration” is defined as, “movement that takes place outside the regulatory norms of the sending, transit, and receiving countries” by the International Organization For Migration.(1) Following the start of Syrian Civil War in 2011, millions of Syrians have been forced to flee their homes to countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, and various EU states. By 2014, the number of Syrian refugees had exceeded 3 million as stated by the UN.(2) Frontex European Border and Coast Guard Agency reported that over 1.5 million refugees have crossed to Europe over Turkey within 2015. This overflow of refugees to Europe led to the EU states and Turkey seeking immediate solutions to stop, or at least reduce, irregular migration to manageable numbers. As it has been a huge topic of debate within Europe and Turkey, on 18 March 2016, EU Heads of State or Government and Turkey agreed to end irregular migration from Turkey to the EU and replace it instead with legal channels for resettlement of refugees to the European Union. (3)

The EU and Turkey agreed on many highly important issues within the EU-Turkey Statement of 18 March towards reaching that goal. Although all of the points of the agreement can be, and have been, debated on extensively, the main points are as follows:

  • All new irregular migrants or asylum seekers whose applications have been declared inadmissible crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as of 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey;
  • For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled to the EU from Turkey directly;
  • The fulfillment of the visa liberalization roadmap will be accelerated vis-à-vis all participating Member States with a view to lifting the visa requirements for
  • Turkish citizens by the end of June 2016, at the latest, provided that all benchmarks have been met;
  • The EU, in close cooperation with Turkey, will further speed up the disbursement of 3 billion euros initially allocated under the Facility for Refugees in
  • Turkey, and ensure funding of further projects for persons under temporary protection identified with swift input from Turkey before the end of March.

Without a doubt, it is extremely important to define the criteria for who will be returned to Turkey, and on what ground, in light of the 1951 Refugee Convention(4), the European Convention on Human Rights(5), the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights(6), and EU law. It has been emphasized numerous times within the EU-Turkey Statement and its follow up reports that people who apply for asylum in Greece would have their applications treated on a case-by-case basis, in line with EU and international law requirements and the principle of non-refoulement. There would be individual interviews, individual assessments, and rights of appeal. There would be no blanket or automatic returns of asylum seekers. As has been stated by the European Commission Fact Sheet regarding Implementing the EU-Turkey Statement, the EU asylum rules allow Member States in certain clearly defined circumstances to declare an application “inadmissible”, which means, to reject the application without examining the substance after a fast-track procedure, thereby accelerating the process of handling applications.
There are two legal possibilities that can be used 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 already been recognized 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.(7)

Following the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, the total number of migrants returned to Turkey as of 28 September 2016 has been reported as 578 (including 53 Syrians). The difficulties in recognizing Turkey as the first country of asylum, or safe third country for each asylum seeker, together with right of appeal of each individual, may be deemed as the reasons for such a number. With that said, the number of irregular crossings suggest that implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement has been a success in what it is trying to achieve. The Second Report on the progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement dated 15 June 2016 stated that around 1,740 migrants were crossing the Aegean Sea to the Greek islands every day in the weeks before implementation of the Statement, whereas the average daily number of irregular crossings since 1 May had been down to 47.(8) Correlatively, the Third Report dated 28 September 2016 stated that since the Second Report, the total number of arrivals from Turkey to the Greek islands was 9,250 – representing an average daily arrival of around 81.(9) Even though this would suggest an increase in number of daily crossings from Turkey to Greece, either number is a tiny fraction of the daily number of crossings between September 2015 and February 2016, where daily averages during those months were 4,921, 6,929, 5,146, 3,368, 1,987 and 1,943 persons, respectively.

The Third Report stated that the EU has allocated over €2.2 billion of the €3 billion Facility for Refugees in Turkey as of 28 September 2016. This funding is supposed to be used to support Syrians in Turkey by providing access to food, shelter, education, and healthcare. It has been reported that Turkey has agreed to allow the EU to regularly monitor the situation of both Syrians and non-Syrians returned to Turkey, including access to refugee camps and centers, and has concluded an agreement with UNHCR to provide access to removal centers to specifically monitor Turkey’s practices in relation to international protection procedures.

However, many difficulties and dangers remain for continued implementation of the Statement. Turkey has yet to fulfill any of the seven benchmarks of the Visa Liberalization Roadmap.(10) Maintaining a good political relationship between the EU and Turkish government has always been fragile, and it seems to be worsening day by day. It is yet to be seen what the future holds for the Statement in light of numerous declarations of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of Turkish government that the EU is not keeping its promises of aid money, coupled with the continued failure of the Turkish government to implement the seven benchmarks for visa liberalization.

  1. http://www.iom.int/key-migration-terms
  2. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-crisis-refugees-idUSKBN0GT0AX20140829
  3. http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/03/18-eu-turkey-statement/
  4. http://www.unhcr.org/1951-refugee-convention.html
  5. http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf
  6. http://ec.europa.eu/justice/fundamental-rights/charter/index_en.htm
  7. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-1664_en.htm
  8. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-2181_en.htm
  9. http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/news_corner/migration/com_2016_634_f1_other_act_863309.pdf
  10. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-3204_en.htm

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