EU-Turkey refugee deal: The West has trodden on its fundamental values

07/05/2016


The EU and Turkey have now reached an agreement on refugee issues, which has aroused considerable legal and political controversy. To examine the arguments about the deal, I present here the main text with my legal assessment of each point annotated.
According to this agreement, all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey. This will take place in full compliance with EU and international law, thus excluding any kind of collective expulsion. All migrants will be protected in accordance with the relevant international standards and in respect of the principle of non-refoulement. It will be a temporary and extraordinary measure which is necessary to end the human suffering and restore public order, migrants arriving in the Greek islands will be duly registered and any application for asylum will be processed individually by the Greek authorities in accordance with the Asylum Procedures Directive , in cooperation with UNHCR. Migrants not applying for asylum or whose application has been found unfounded or inadmissible in accordance with the said directive will be returned to Turkey. Turkey and Greece, assisted by EU institutions and agencies, will take the necessary steps and agree any necessary bilateral arrangements, including the presence of Turkish officials on Greek islands and Greek officials in Turkey as from 20 March 2016, to ensure liaison and thereby facilitate the smooth functioning of these arrangements. The costs of the return operations of irregular migrants will be covered by the EU.
The newly added first sentence is a flagrant breach of EU and international law – but the rest of the paragraph then completely contradicts it. To be frank, anyone with a legal qualification who signed off on this first sentence should hang their head in shame. Returning ‘all’ persons who cross from Turkey to the Greek islands would contradict the ban on collective expulsion in the EU Charter and the ECHR, as well as EU asylum legislation.
Proposals to send back refugees en masse from the European Union to Turkey would contravene their right to protection under European and international law, agencies and rights groups say.
The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, has criticized the plans drawn up by Turkey and the EU, saying they would amount to a violation of human rights.
Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, questioned the legality of the deal struck by the EU and Turkey. “As a first reaction I am 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,” he said on Tuesday.
"The collective expulsion of foreigners is prohibited under the European Convention of Human Rights," Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's Europe regional director, said in Geneva on Tuesday. "An agreement that would be tantamount to a blanket return of any foreigners to a third country, is not consistent with European law, is not consistent with international law."
“EU and Turkish leaders have today sunk to a new low, effectively horse trading away the rights and dignity of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The idea of bartering refugees for refugees is not only dangerously dehumanizing, but also offers no sustainable long term solution to the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” said Iverna McGowan, Head of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.
Amnesty International strongly contests the concept of a ‘safe third country’ in general, as this undermines the individual right to have asylum claims fully and fairly processed and may result in individuals being subsequently deported to their country of origin – in violation of the principle of non-refoulement.
Several other groups have also voiced deep concerns about the plan intended to stem the flow.
Save the Children, the UK-based charity, said that in Europe, one in four asylum applicants is a child. "Any returns of individuals who have not had their asylum applications properly considered, or who are returned to a country where they do not have the right to international protection, would be illegal under international refugee law," it said in a statement.
For its part, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said European leaders had "lost track of reality". Aurelie Ponthieu, MSF humanitarian affairs adviser on displacement, said "Europe is willing to do anything, including compromising essential human rights and refugee law principles, to stem the flow of refugees and migrants.
"It is time European leaders stopped fuelling the policy-created European migration crisis and provide the only realistic and humane response: safe and legal passage and humanitarian assistance and protection to those in need."
In the case of Turkey in particular, there is huge cause for concern given the current situation and treatment of migrants and refugees. Turkey has signed deportation agreements with countries including Afghanistan, which have poor human rights records. That could breach laws that forbid refugees being sent back to war zones.
“Turkey has forcibly returned refugees to Syria and many refugees in the country live in desperate conditions without adequate housing. Hundreds of thousands of refugee children cannot access formal education. By no stretch of imagination can Turkey be considered a ‘safe third country’ that the EU can cowardly outsource its obligations to,” she added.
Although it was claimed that those needing international protection that are not Syrian would not be returned to Turkey, it has not been made clear how those individual rights could be guaranteed in the context of a system of mass returns. The reality is that not all asylum seekers are coming from Syria, and Turkey does not have a fully functioning asylum system.
The deal makes a mockery of the EU’s obligation to provide access to asylum at its borders. Any returns system not built on the principle of an individual’s right to access a fair and robust asylum process is deeply problematic.
“Iraqi and Afghan nationals, along with Syrians, make up around 90 percent of arrivals to Greece. Sending them back to Turkey knowing their strong claim to international protection will most likely never be heard reveals EU claims to respect refugees’ human rights as hollow words,” said Iverna McGowan.
It was also stated by President Tusk that the Western Balkans route would be closed. Closure of this route would lead to thousands of vulnerable people being left in the cold with no clear plan on how their urgent humanitarian needs and rights to international protection would be dealt with.
         It is urgent that the European Union and the international community as a whole urgently step up their commitment to solving this crisis, both in terms of humanitarian and other financial assistance and by resettling far greater numbers of refugees./.
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All comments [ 11 ]


yobro yobro 8/5/16 17:15

The plans violate fundamental human rights and is a direct assault on the right of asylum.

Only Solidar 8/5/16 17:17

The collective expulsion of foreigners is prohibited under the European Convention of Human Rights," said Vincent Cochetel, a senior UNHCR official.

Love Peace 8/5/16 17:18

An agreement that would be tantamount to a blanket return of any foreigners to a third country is not consistent with European law, is not consistent with international law.

Jane smartnic 8/5/16 17:20

Doctors Without Borders said the European leaders had “completely lost track of reality”, while Human Rights Watch accused the summit of “using refugees as bargaining chips”.

MaskOf Zero 8/5/16 17:23

Reports ahead of the deal suggest authorities in the country are forcing those fleeing the conflict back into Syria, a violation of international human rights law.

Pack Cassiopian 8/5/16 17:24

Turkish law forbids Iraqis and Afghans from obtaining refugee status, which means if citizens of those countries are sent to Turkey they could be deported to their home countries, where they are likely to face persecution and possibly even death.

Deck Hero14 8/5/16 17:25

Aid organizations warned that it is likely to push refugees into opting for riskier and more dangerous routes to make their way into Europe.

Only Solidar 8/5/16 17:26

Those excluded from the deal will continue to try different, more dangerous routes if the border between Turkey and Greece is shut to them.

LawrenceSamuels 8/5/16 17:27

It is unclear how the funds allocated to the Turkish government by the EU will be used or how much oversight the European authorities have over them.

Gentle Moon 8/5/16 17:28

It is also unclear what will happen when the money runs out, further emphasizing the short-sightedness of a plan European officials have described as the worst refugee “crisis” since World War II.

John Smith 8/5/16 18:30

This is not a matter purely of numbers but of humanitarian need and decisions should be made on that basis. This is in no-one’s interests except the smugglers.

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