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18th Feb 2019

EU trying to bury report on Turkey migrant returns

  • Questions remain on whether Turkey is a safe third country for returned non-Syrian asylum seekers (Photo: Reuters)

The European Commission and some member states want to bury a report by an EU agency that is likely to say Turkey is unfit for asylum seekers, EUobserver understands.

People sitting on the management board of the Malta-based European Asylum Support Office (EASO), including EU commission staff from the home affairs department, DG Home, are unhappy with EASO's efforts to determine if Turkey is a safe third country.

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The management board also includes representatives from all 28 EU member states.

"The subject is a sensitive one indeed and so obviously there can be some members of the management which have concerns," Jean-Pierre Schembri, EASO's spokesperson told this website on Wednesday (15 June).

The EU's big migrant swap deal with Ankara largely hinges on designating Turkey as safe enough to send back rejected and unwanted asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey.

Signed off in mid-March, the deal aims to stop people from leaving Turkey to seek international protection in the EU.

The Greek islands now has on average dozens of new arrivals per day, down from the thousands at the height of the crisis last year. And the EU wants to keep it that way.

But the EASO probe could knock a big legal hole in the plan, adding to the chorus of human rights defenders who say it is illegal.

EASO management board members are also unhappy because the agency appears to have diverted from its original mandate.

The team was supposed to compile a so-called country of origin report for Turkey but then it also started looking into the safe third country issue following a mission to Turkey some two weeks ago.

Caught in a dilemma

EASO is now caught in a dilemma.

Either they publish a credible report or one that toes the EU line on how Turkey is fit for returned asylum seekers. The report is not yet finished.

Asked to comment, Schembri says they are still in consultation with the management board and with the commission to determine "if this [safe third country] is in our role or not."

EUobserver also understands that the UK members on the management board had objected to the EASO probe and then decided to write their own report.

The issue points to larger sensitivity over a migrant deal with Turkey.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, said the "EU-Turkey deal is reckless and illegal".

A Greek appeals committee in Lesbos, a Greek island, came to a similar conclusion.

Earlier this month it said Turkey is not safe enough for nine Syrian refugees facing deportation. All nine will now remain in Greece. Only one Syrian has had his appeal application rejected.

Under the terms of the deal, the EU would resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey for each one that is returned. Around 30 Syrians have so far agreed to voluntarily return to Turkey.

Turkey provides Syrians in Turkey temporary status protection but not other nationalities, for instance people from Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Turkey must be designated a safe third country in order for the EU to send non-Syrians packing. The conditions are outlined under article 38 of the the EU's asylum procedures directive.

EU casts legal spell on Turkey pact

Turkey will only have to demonstrate "equivalent" level of safeguards to the Refugee Convention in order for Greece to send people back.

EU gives up on Turkey visa deadlines

Turkish citizens will not get visa-free travel to the EU by the end of June, and the commission now admits it cannot give a date for completion of the deal.

EU-Turkey migrant deal redundant, rights chief says

Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe watchdog, said people would no longer cross into Greece from Turkey due to difficulties getting further - regardless of the EU migrant deal with Ankara.

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