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16th May 2022

Failed relocation scheme to be used in EU-Turkey plan

  • Around 14,000 people are stuck at the Idomeni camp on the Greek side of the border with Macedonia. (Photo: Fotomovimiento)

The EU may, ahead of this week's summit, merge a failed policy to relocate asylum seekers from Italy and Greece into a broader draft agreement with Turkey, according to an internal document.

The plan that will be discussed by EU leaders on Thursday (17 March) and with Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday (18 March) is part of a migrant swap deal with Ankara, where each rejected asylum applicant in the EU would be replaced by a Syrian refugee in Turkey.

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The one-page preparatory document from European Council president Donald Tusk, seen by EUobserver, suggests first using a July 2015 agreement to relocate 40,000 arriving asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other EU states.

Under that agreement, France (6,752), Germany (10,500), and The Netherlands (2,047) agreed to take in the most asylum seekers while Austria and Hungary settled for zero.

The zero figures suggest wiggle room for Hungary, a staunch anti-relocation state which will only agree to a Turkey deal if there are no new distribution plans.

Once the quota is exhausted, the EU would then revert to a follow-up plan made last September to relocate an additional 120,000 people.

"Should the number of returns exceed the numbers provided for by these commitments, this agreement will be subject to review," notes the paper.

The scheme has had a poor track record among EU states.

Around 850 people out of the 160,000 have been relocated since its launch, with EU leaders at the time setting a 54,000 target by September 2016.

"Once the irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU have come to an end," a "voluntary humanitarian admission scheme" would then kick into place, notes the document.

It is also unclear how many they intend to bulk swap to clear out the Greek islands of irregular migrants.

But EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos on Tuesday (15 March) announced a weekly relocation target of 6,000.

"Our target is to be in a position to relocate 6,000 people per week," he said in a visit to the unfolding humanitarian crisis at the ad-hoc refugee camp in Idomeni.

Re-balancing the plan

Meanwhile, EU leaders and Turkey are meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to sign-off on the draft plan.

The EU wants to sharply reduce the number of people arriving in Greece seeking asylum. Turkey, in exchange, will have short-term EU visa restrictions lifted on its nationals in June.

Some €3 billion, plus an additional sum still to be defined, in EU money will also go to Turkey to help finance humanitarian relief for 2.7 million refugees.

The Tusk document, dated Friday (18 March), says the agreement will be formulated as "an EU-Turkey statement".

In a visit to Cyprus, Tusk said the draft accord between Turkey and the EU last week had been engineered by Germany and the Netherlands.

"The Turkish proposal worked out together with Germany and the Netherlands still needs to be re-balanced so as to be accepted by all 28 member states and the EU institutions," he said on Tuesday (15 March).

The admission points to grievances in a draft deal that shocked some EU leaders at last week's summit in Brussels when Turkey's PM Davutoglu showed up with fresh demands.

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Out of the promised 160,000, EU countries have so far took in 1,145 refugees from Greece and Italy, as the EU commission warns of humaniatian crisis in Greece and the deterioration of the situation in Italy.

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