On Friday the EU reached a new agreement on the migrant and refugee crisis. This is coming now because 850,000 people were smuggled from Turkey to Greece in 2015 and because tens of thousands of refugees are stuck in Greece since countries to the north closed their borders. Effectively there’s a bottleneck and the EU wants to stop the flow and free up the bottleneck.
The EU takes the view that the solution to the crisis lies in Turkey, which is seen as having ultimate control over the flow of refugees. In taking this view, the EU naively puts all its faith in Turkey. Knowing this, Turkey plays hardball in return, demanding for months that that any plan comes with concessions for Turkey. The outcome of these talks was the deal agreed on Friday.
The biggest announcement was the one-for-one scheme, which aims to deter smuggling. Since Sunday, any refugee arriving in Greece from Turkey will be sent back. For every Syrian deported from Greece, the EU will take one Syrian who remains in Turkey, but at a limit of 72,000. It is all about swapping, and risk. Now, in order for a Syrian to reach Europe, he or she will have to rely on another Syrian paying smugglers for the trip from Turkey to Greece. In doing this, demand for smuggling to areas other than Greece will increase and trips will becomes more hazardous. For the 45,000 refugees already stuck in Greece, they will be resettled throughout Europe if their asylum claim is granted but without consideration of the claimant’s preference or family ties.
In assessing the scheme, international organisations are cautious and rights-group are critical. Under the Refugee Convention, nobody claiming refugee status can be deported without an appropriate assessment of their claim for refugee status. To establish this, you need to do individual assessments. The UN refugee chief has said that he is ‘deeply concerned… about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another, without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law’. This is exactly what this scheme does, because those Syrians who are smuggled to Greece will be expeditiously returned to Turkey. Under the new scheme, Europe is assuming, outright, that Turkey is a safe place to return refugees, even though it has no domestic refugee plan and affords limited protections. This is the precise reason so many of the 2.7 million refugees in Turkey try to make it to Europe, and it is exactly what this plan ignores.
In return for participating in the new scheme, we are going to pay Turkey €6bn to deal with refugees within its borders (up from a previous commitment of €3bn), visa-free travel for Turkish citizens will start from June (provided Turkey complies with 72 complicated conditions), and negotiations on EU membership will begin (but much more slowly than Turkey would like). As only 10 per cent of Turks have passport, this agreement swaps freer movement for the most well off in Turkey with more restricted movement for the least well off, refugees. This new policy decision engages an absurd inequality.
Despite all of these problems, the EU remains firm that the new scheme is a step forward. The European Council President, Donald Tusk, has said that the new plan will operate in tandem with ‘strengthening the EU’s external borders, keeping the western Balkan route closed, and getting back to Schengen’. These are all approaches that put the EU’s interests above those of refugees. When you lay the scheme out, it looks like one big flawed bribe: Turkey is being paid off to protect refugees even though we already know Turkey is failing to protect those refugees. We are approaching things from the perspective that we want to shut our borders rather than provide asylum. It is shocking that as the crisis gets worse the EU’s response does too.