Going Cold Turkey – Why the EU/Turkish Migrant Deal Is Causing Controversy In The EU Brexit Debate
By Oshin Shahiean of OTS Solicitors
On the face of it, the deal struck between Turkey and the European Union, in a desperate bid to stem the influx of migrants entering Europe, has been a success. Numbers of refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey have declined sharply and Turkey’s officials appear to be cracking down on people smugglers.
However, despite positive beginnings, controversy surrounds the agreement. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel was recently in Turkey trying to salvage the migrant deal, whilst today on the 2nd June 2016 her Government have voted in a show of human solidarity and defiance against Turkey by deciding overwhelmingly to recognise the Armenian Genocide of 1915. ‘Leave EU’ campaigners including Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove, are arguing that by staying in the EU, Britain is opening its doors to a wave of migrants from Turkey and that the country could be a member of the Union by 2020. And there are still serious concerns about whether Turkey is a safe country in which to return refugees to.
To discover why, two months into the arrangement controversy still rages, it is helpful to examine how the arrangement has been handled so far.
A recap on the details of the EU/Turkey migrant deal
Under the EU-Turkey agreement, migrants who have arrived illegally in Greece since 20th March 2016 are to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for Asylum or if their claim is rejected.
For each Syrian migrant returned, the EU is to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request and is living in one of the many migrant camps in Turkey.
So far, around 400 migrants who have landed in Greece have been returned to Turkey.
Slow rate of return to Turkey
One of the criticism of the agreement is that very few refugees have been sent back to Turkey, compared with the amount that have entered Greece since 20th March. However, as Greece has rightfully pointed out; under international law, correct procedures must be followed to establish whether or not someone is a legitimate refugee. Also, many migrants are suffering from various illnesses and this makes them exempt from the return process.
Under the EU-Turkey migrant agreement, people arriving in Greece from 20th March are screened, registered and detained in what are effectively detention centres, until their migrant applications are processed. This process, which prior to the deal took up to three months, must now be completed in three weeks.
Greek officials involved in the process say one of the reasons most migrants have remained in Europe is that the first Asylum claims to be considered under the new arrangement were the most likely to be accepted. Priority is being given to vulnerable groups such as the sick and disabled, unaccompanied minors, pregnant women and lone-parent families, most of whom cannot be returned or have legitimate refugee status.
Despite the EU sending in more resources to help process migrant applications, reports emerged in April 2016 of people being forced to sleep in the open because the shelters were full. Overcrowding and slow processing are leading to tensions and repeated outbreaks of fighting and rioting amongst the migrants themselves.
Is Turkey a safe country to return migrants to?
Some EU diplomats have commented that the low number of migrants being sent back to Turkey indicates that Greece does not believe that the country is a ‘safe third country’. In a blow to the migrant deal, on 21st May 2016, a Greek court ruled that a Syrian refugee should not be sent back to Turkey because his safety could not be guaranteed.
Amnesty International has long accused Turkey of not protecting the rights of refugees. They state that migrants in Turkey are denied the right to work, receive medical care and their family life not adequately protected.
But most damningly of all, Amnesty International has accused Turkey of sending around 100 refugees back to war-torn Syria, an accusation that if proved true, represents a gross violation of international law.
Under the law against non-refoulment, it is illegal for any country to deport people to a war zone.
Turkey’s foreign ministry has vehemently denied this allegation.
When it comes to the Syrian refugee crisis, no one can accuse Turkey of not pulling its weight. The country is hosting more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees and has built and maintained more than 25 refugee camps along the Syrian border. But it cannot shoulder such a large burden of desperate humanity forever, and the country’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been vocal in his demands that Europe must share some of the responsibility.
Life inside the camps is tough, and life for the majority of migrants who live outside them is harder still. Because work permits are not granted to migrants in Turkey, many are working illegally and are wickedly exploited. Few migrant children are educated, and most families rely on outside charities for food and clothing.
Although Turkey may provide safety to refugees fleeing the Syrian war, it does not necessarily offer a future, which is why so many choose to make the dangerous journey to Europe.
The chances of Turkey becoming a member of the EU
Under the EU/Turkey migrant deal both sides agreed to "re-energise" Turkey's bid to join the European bloc, with talks due to begin by July 2016. However, this process is not expected to move fast. As stated in a recent report in The Guardian, Michael Gove’s claims that Turkey could become a member of the EU by 2020 will come as a great surprise, especially to the Turkish government.
Neither France or Germany, the EU’s powerhouses want Turkey to enter into the EU fray. The country was not officially recognised as a candidate for membership until 1999, and not much progress has been made regarding its application since then, most definitely not in-line with the prerequisite for Turkey to acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915.
Aspiring members must also adopt existing EU rules and standards and 35 chapters must be agreed to separately, in stages. After nearly 30 years, only one negotiating chapter has been agreed with Turkey. Fifteen are, in theory, open for discussion, while talks about the remainder – the most difficult bits, such as freedom of movement – have not even begun.
Many EU bureaucrats feel the Union is big enough and do not pose much enthusiasm for new members who wish to join the club.
A long road ahead
The EU/Turkey migrant deal is at best a plaster placed over a gaping wound. The war in Syria shows no signs of abating, Turkey and other surrounding countries in the Middle East offer little hope of a future to migrants wanting to rebuild their lives, and Greece continues to be overwhelmed with refugee processing procedures. The world will have to come up with a more permanent solution to solve what is materialising into one of the biggest crises of the 21st century.
OTS Solicitors specialises in Employment and Immigration law. Based in London, our expert team of Immigration Solicitors are committed to delivering the best results for our Employment and Immigration clients. If you wish to receive legal advice on any of the points raised in this article, please phone our office on 0203 959 9123 to make an appointment.