23rd Oct 2016

EU-Turkey deal gets reality check

  • Migrants in Idomeni at the Greek-Macedonian border are eligible for relocation and will not be sent back (Photo: Reuters)

The EU-Turkey deal, aiming to stop the flow of migrants into Europe via the Aegean Sea, came into effect on Sunday (20 March) but several outstanding legal issues and logistical challenges raise questions about how it would work in reality.

The deal under which the EU intends to return everyone, including Syrians, who arrives in Greece via smugglers, and resettle Syrian refugees directly from Turkey on a one-for-one basis, has not deterred migrants so far.

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According to Greek authorities, 1,662 people had arrived on Greek islands by Monday morning, twice the official count from the day before, Reuters reported.

Who will be returned?

“All irregular migrants will be returned, all asylum seekers will be allowed to lodge their claim,” an European Commission spokesman said Monday.

Everyone who has arrived on the Greek islands after Sunday, and does not apply for asylum in Greece or is not eligible for international protection, is considered an irregular migrant, and will be sent back.

Those claiming asylum, including Syrians, will also be sent back to Turkey, once Greek legislation is in place to deem Turkey a safe third country, which means it complies with the standards of the Geneva Convention on refugees and provides protection for those fleeing war.

When will returns and resettlement start?

Decisions on the “inadmissibility” of asylum claims will start from 28 March, once Greece has amended its asylum law to make Turkey a safe third country.

EU lawyers are on the ground in Athens to “help the government in drafting” the law, that would include appeal committees and appeal rights, officials have said.

Once the Greek legislation is in place, asylum procedures are expected to be “fast and fair”.

A commission spokesman, on Monday, did want to speculate on how fast the individual claims will be assessed but they are expected to take approximately one week.

Turkish officials have suggested however that returns can only start once the resettlement part of the scheme kicks in on 4 April, whereby EU countries start to take in people directly from Turkey.

Turkish legal tweaks?

Besides the revision of Greek asylum legislation, the EU is also counting on Turkey to make legal changes to ensure that the level of protection provided to nationalities other than Syrians is “equivalent in substance to that of the Geneva Convention” and that Syrians who are returned will get their rights back as refugees in Turkey.

EU officials said there is clear political commitment from the Turkish side to do so but it is unclear how Ankara will set up those safeguards.

EU officials also stressed that Kurds and other minorities, whose safety might be in danger in Turkey, will not be sent back.

“We are not returning people who can’t get protection in Turkey,” an official said.

Officials note that the EU will send people on the ground to monitor if international standards of protection for asylum seekers are being respected.

What will happen to those already in Greece?

Greek authorities say over 50,000 migrants are stranded in the country. They can apply for asylum in Greece and then apply to be part of the relocation scheme, a program to distribute refugees among EU members proportionally. But relocation is not an option for those arriving after 20 March.

How many people?

The EU Commission on Monday (21 March) proposed that the 54,000 “unused” places in the relocation scheme should be made available for the resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkey.

In an effort to incentivise EU countries to participate in resettlement, member states that take in refugees from Turkey will be able to deduct those numbers from their relocation commitment, meaning they will not have to take in more people in total.

Based on previous commitments by member states, with the 54,000 included, up to 72,000 people can be resettled within the EU-Turkey deal.

EU officials are hoping the number of new arrivals will decrease quickly, and they will not need to use all 72,000 places.

But they also highlight that outside of the EU-Turkey deal, under a voluntary resettlement program, member states will take in more refugees, beyond the 72,000.


Around 4,000 staff is required to make the EU-Turkey deal work in economically battered Greece.

Member states, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), and Frontex, the EU’s border agency will contribute half of this, with EU countries already pledging 1,300 personnel.

Thirty judges will assist from other countries. 400 asylum experts and 400 interpreters will also be deployed.

The commission said 20 member states have so far offered asylum experts and police to support Greece with the implementation of the EU-Turkey plan.

The Greek army already provides food for migrants and is involved in setting up hotspots. Police officers will be in charge of security at reception centres.

The cost of the operation is estimated to be around €280 million over the next six months, which will come from the EU budget.

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