The clock is ticking and it is still unclear how the EU will manage to close a final refugee agreement with Turkey by the end of the week.

The aim is to transform the basis agreed by the EU leaders on March 8th into a common migratory plan that is fully compliant with European and international law on asylum.

Principles already agreed with Ankara

  • Ankara accepts the return of all new irregular migrants from the Greek islands.
  • Brussels in exchange promises:

– To cover all the costs of the return.

– To establish a 1:1 resettlement system: for every Syrian re-admitted by Turkey from the Greek islands “to resettle” another Syrian from Turkey to the EU Member States”.

– To accelerating the visa liberalisation process (visa requirements lifting in June).

– To speed up the disbursement of 3 billion euros to help refugees in Turkey by the end of March.

– To decide on additional funding. (German chancellor, Angela Merkel, pointed out that another 3 billion as of 2018 is in discussion with Ankara).

– To prepare for the decision on the opening of new chapters in the accession negotiations “as soon as possible”.

Legal concerns

The three main concerns of non-governmental organisations and the United Nations:

1. The mass deportation of asylum claimants.
2. Can Turkey be considered a “safe third country”?
3. What happens with non Syrians in need of international protection?

“Among my concerns is the potential for collective and arbitrary expulsions, which are illegal”, said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN human rights chief about the agreement.

Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch, underlines that the deal fails to say “how individual needs for international protection would be fairly assessed during the rapid-fire mass expulsions”.

HRW also highlights that Turkey has ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention but is the only country in the world to apply a geographical limitation so that only Europeans can get refugee status there. It does not provide effective protection for refugees and has repeatedly pushed asylum seekers back to Syria.

Geneva Convention

The Geneva Convention on Refugees says that:

  • There cannot be discrimination “as to race, religion or country of origin” (art.3)
  • No refugee shall be expelled or returned (prohibition of “refoulement”) to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened. (art.33).

European directive

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, claimed that the deal respects the EU legislation because it says that a country can refuse to consider an asylum claim if a non-EU country is considered as a “safe third country”.

  • The asylum procedure directive indeed allows a Member State to refuse to consider a claim if a non-EU country is considered as a “safe third country” (art. 33).
  • But to be considered a “safe third country” the  principle of non-refoulement has to be respected and there must be a possibility to request refugee status in accordance with the Geneva Convention, ergo, without geographic limits. (art.38).

Greece considers Turkey a “safe third country”, although Ankara only allows Europeans to ask for the refugee status.

Ideal way out

The EU could find a way to make sure deportations are not massive and a case-by-case method applies in order to give everyone the opportunity to seek asylum.

Turkey could change its national law and finally comply with the Geneva Convention.

EU leaders declaration

EU directive on asylum

Geneva Convention