Thursday

21st Mar 2019

Interview

Turkey will not give in to EU on refugee laws

  • Selim Yenel (r) says everyone leaving Turkey to the EU, including Syrian refugees, are economic migrants (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)

Turkey has no intention of changing domestic laws to make it safer for rejected migrants returned from the EU, Ankara's top diplomatic envoy to Brussels has said.

Turkey's ambassador to the EU, Selim Yenel, told EUobserver in an interview on Monday (21 March) that existing rules and protection standards in Turkey were good enough for both Syrian and non-Syrian asylum seekers.

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"We think that this is rather a false argument, you know with regarding Turkey as a safe third country, all these things, we think that all these things, mind my language, is nonsense," he said.

Greece this week is signing off legislation to designate Turkey a “safe third country” to allow Greek authorities to return nationalities like Afghans and Iraqis back to Turkey.

Turkey does not apply the Refugee Convention to non-Europeans, so EU officials want Ankara to enact legislation or other rules to make sure it applies an “equivalent” protection level.

That equivalent is spelled out in an article in the EU's asylum procedures directive and is needed to make the plan legally sound under EU law.

An EU commission official told reporters on Monday they would send staff to Turkey to monitor Ankara's application of the extra safeguards for returned migrants from Greece.

But when asked if Ankara would accept any sort of oversight from the EU, Yenel responded: “No, no, no, and no".

He said Turkey did not understand why the EU was interested in elevating protection standards only for those people being returned to Turkey, as opposed to everyone who is already there.

"If you are not questioning their rights, which are currently now in Turkey, why are you questioning when they return back to Turkey?" he said.

Yenel said Syrians sent back from Greece to Turkey would retain their temporary protection status and that Afghans and Iraqis would retain the same rights they already had before the deal - nothing more, nothing less.

While Syrians would be allowed to work, the Afghans and Iraqis would not. This would not change, he said.

"We don't push them [Iraqis] back if they are in danger to Iraq, that is why we have 300,000 of them," he noted.

'Safe zone' in Syria?

The EU-Turkey deal includes €3 billion in EU money to help Syrian refugees inside Turkey. Another €3 billion is planned at the end of 2018.

Turkey wants, along with the help from the international community, to set up a so-called safe zone in northern Syria.

EU officials have baulked at the idea in the past, describing it as unfeasible. But Turkey insists it can work and said it is committed to building towns to help house some 100,000 people.

"Let's say we have a safe zone, then we can use the €3 billion there as well. So it's not for per se only the Syrians in Turkey but for the Syrians also if it is northern Syria," said Yenel.

The EU-Turkey statement following last week's summit appears to support the idea.

It notes the "EU and its member states will work with Turkey in any joint endeavour to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria".

The statement added that the EU would provide help "in certain areas near the Turkish border which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be more safe".

'Unfair, inhumane' system

Yenel said everyone leaving Turkey to the EU are people seeking better opportunities for employment.

"It is not the EU they are after, it is for a better life, and everybody, the Syrians, the Afghans, whoever is leaving Turkey, are going there, they are all economic [migrants],” he said.

He said Syrians in Turkey were already safe and were not fleeing for their lives, noting they had a right to asylum and to work.

But Ankara's dismissal of the EU legal wrangling as a sideshow is likely to complicate efforts by EU officials to make the deal viable.

In a further blow to the EU plans, the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, on Tuesday (22 March) suspended some of its operations on the Greek islands.

An UN official said the so-called hotspots, areas where arriving migrants are registered, have turned into detention centres.

Doctors Without Borders, a leading NGO, also pulled out of the Lesbos migrant detention and registration centre because, it said, “continuing to work inside would make us complicit in a system we consider to be both unfair and inhumane".

EU-Turkey deal gets reality check

The EU-Turkey deal that came into force on Sunday has not deterred migrants crossing the Aegean sea on its first day. But it raises many questions as Greek and Turkish legal frameworks still need to be set up.

Greece struggles to launch EU-Turkey plan

Hundreds of migrants arrived on Greek islands over the weekend, as authorities scramble to implement a deal to send them swiftly back to Turkey.

Smuggled migrants to leave Greece from Sunday onward

EU-Turkey accord to see rejected asylum applicants sent back to Turkey and an equal number of Syrian refugees to be resettled in the EU. Much will depend on Greece's capacity to deliver.

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