Implications of the EU Turkish refugee deal

Implications of the EU Turkish refugee deal

Last week, European Union leaders reached a provisional deal with Turkey to curb the flow of refugees coming to the continent. Since last year, over 1 million refugees have arrived in Europe, with over 140,000 arriving since January alone. To help stem the tide as well as give the Turkish economy a much needed boost, the two sides have hammered out a deal that increases Turkey’s aid in exchange for the return of refugees. However, there are some legal questions surrounding the deal and some member states have also expressed their skepticism.

Tenets of the deal

The deal was largely spearheaded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an effort to stop the flow of refugees into Europe. The major tenants of the deal would require all refugees to traveled from Turkey to Greece to be returned in exchange for 6.6 billon euros in aid, easier visa access to Europe for Turks and a speeding up of stalled EU accession talks for Turkey.

The EU has also agreed to accept, on a one for one basis, Syrian refugees applying through legal channels from Turkey after the return of the current refugees. While agreed to in principle, the deal will not be finalized until the EU leaders summit on March 17th or 18th.

Refugee crisis hurting Turkish economy

Turkey has become desperate to make a deal that will bolster the health of their economy, which has been wavering. On July 9th of last year, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan indicated that Turkey spent more than $6 billion to take in 2 million refugees, including 1.7 million Syrians and 300,000 Iraqis. As of October 5th, that number had swelled to $7.5 billion and some analysts suggest that number now tops $10 billion with over 2.6 million Syrians now estimated in the country. This is coupled with a recent spike in the inflation rate in the country.

Despite these costs, refugees are beneficial to the output of the Turkish economy, which is likely why the Turkish government was willing to accept their return. The economy saw an unexpected rise in third-quarter growth and stronger forecasts for 2016 output. Taken together with the 6.6 billion in aid and the reduced wages for the refugees, it is clear why the Turkish government was so eager for this deal.   

Staunch opposition

There has not been widespread agreement amongst members of the European Union for the deal. Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades has indicated he will not lift his country’s veto on opening five new chapters in Turkey’s EU membership negotiations, a critical part of the deal.

The fight stems from Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia or allow Cypriot ships to dock in its ports. In recent days the two sides had been moving closer to a deal that would resolve the dispute, and Cyprus believes this deal jeopardizes Cyprus’ negotiating power. Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande has already promised to fight vehemently against any concession on the criteria for visa liberalization.

The promise that EU countries will take on further refugees has been rejected by countries, including the Czech Republic, who refuse to increase the amount of individuals that it accepts yearly. Slovenia and Croatia have already effectively closed their borders to most refugees while Serbia and Macedonia are expected to follow.

Other countries have questioned Turkey’s viability as a partner in peace talks due to the growing abuses of the freedom of expression under President Erdogan. After the deal was announced, the Austrian interior minister suggested that the Turkish government was not one to be trusted after a recent assault on the headquarters of a daily newspaper in Ankara.

International non-profits including Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, and Human Rights Watch have also expressed their reservations with the potential deal, in part because the deal increases the risk that refugees will attempt even more dangerous routes to reach Europe.

Violation of international law?

The United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, says that the deal would violate international law under the European Convention of Human Rights. Under this Convention, the collective expulsion of foreigners is prohibited and any agreement that is tantamount to a blanket return of foreigners to a third country is a violation of the law. Furthermore, the UNHCR expressed doubts that Syrian refugees would ever be resettled in Europe, citing the lack of compliance with the previous agreement, which sought to relocate 60,000 refugees from Greece.

The relevant parts of European law come from Article 33 and 38 of the asylum procedure in the 2013 directive. Article 33 states that the EU can declare an asylum application inadmissible if a person has already traveled through a safe third country. Article 38 delineates what constitutes a safe third country.

Importantly, Turkey has potentially violated Article 38(c), which requires a safe country to avoid “refoulment,” that is pushing refugees back into danger. Turkey may also have violated Article 38(e), which requires the safe country to allow for the possibility for an individual to request refugee status, and if found to be a refugee, to receive protection in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

Turkey is not a full member of the Geneva Convention on refugees and only allows people from Europe to seek refugee status in Turkey. The country has made a partial exception for Syrians, but they are still not given full refugee status. 

Greece would also have to create a special court to hear asylum seekers’ appeals against being sent back to Turkey, since another EU law requires migrants to be entitled to appeal against being returned to a third country on grounds of a risk to their life or safety there.

Categories: Europe, Politics

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