Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Opinion

EU-Turkey refugee deal doesn't add up

  • Austria's Faymann, Turkey's Davutoglu and Germany's Merkel: The best that can be hoped is that leaders are realising that resettlement is key to their managing this situation. (Photo: consillium.europa.eu)

The 8 March agreement between EU leaders and the prime minister of Turkey is being hailed by some as a turning point, and by others as unworkable and even illegal.

The aims of the deal - to close down smuggling routes, break the business model of smugglers, protect external borders and “break down the link between getting in a boat and getting settlement in Europe” - are important.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The boats are likely to keep coming despite the summit's outcome (Photo: ifrc.org)

However,the one-for-one deal of every Syrian asylum seeker returned to Turkey from Greece being exchanged for one Syrian refugee to be resettled from Turkey to the EU is highly problematic and unlikely to achieve those goals.

The major reasons for the likely failure are the breakdown in logic, and human understanding, that seem to underpin this approach.

It is impossible to set aside the mass refoulement (return without assessing the protection need) of the asylum seekers who would be returned to Turkey under this agreement: but let us take that vital criticism as heard, and hopefully enforced by European courts.

Let us turn instead to the mathematics of the deal, and the implications of existing practice for this approach.

Maths

One for one. It sounds simple - but the agreement specifically relies on existing resettlement commitments, and explicitly “does not establish any new commitments on member states as far as relocation and resettlement is concerned”.

According to UNHCR, the UN’s refugee branch, there are currently about 20,000 resettlement places on offer for Syrians to the EU over a two-year period.

In the first two months of 2016 there were, according to the International Organisation for Migration, 126,000 arrivals in Greece by boat.

Almost half of these are Syrians - around 60,000. Let us assume a similar number of arrivals in the first two months of this agreement (as Syrians will surely realise that the only way to achieve higher numbers of resettlement places is by keeping boat arrivals high: the agreement just shifts the connection - a Syrian getting in a boat means another Syrian gets resettlement to Europe).

How exactly are 60,000 resettlement places going to be made available without new commitments?

What is more - how exactly is the EU, which has a poor record in removing irregular migrants and failed asylum seekers, going to return 126,000 people to Turkey over a two-month period?

Logic

In addition to the maths, there is the logic: the aim is to close down smuggling routes and change the business model of smugglers. However, if one puts oneself into the shoes of a smuggler and a Syrian one can see that there might be a shift in the model, but no closure.

The agreement does not say “the EU will resettle Syrians so there is no need for them to take boats”, rather it says “first take the boat, then we’ll send you back, and then someone, but probably not you, will be resettled”.

Put differently, there will only be resettlement of any Syrians, or certainly of any significant number of Syrians, so long as some, or indeed many, Syrians are making the journey by boat.

So, yes, this is a whole new model: not only can smugglers get paid for taking people, or sending them, on the treacherous Mediterranean crossing, but perhaps some Syrians could make a new business of being the ones to go to and fro - being paid by others who, presumably patiently, await resettlement.

This brings us to another flaw in the plan: that it regenerates the good refugee/bad asylum seeker model. European states had cut resettlement to hundreds of places in the 1980s and 1990s, and anyone seeking protection in Europe had to get there on their own and ask for asylum.

That essentially created the business of smuggling.

Those who wait

By 2016 the number of resettlement places in EU countries are still only numbers in the several thousands. Without creating any new commitments to resettlement, this agreement with Turkey implies that those who wait in the queue will eventually be resettled - those who don’t wait, and make the journey with smugglers, will not get protection.

However, two things should be clear - those who wait will not wait forever, and those who do not wait are not necessarily in any less need of protection.

In order to wait for resettlement, refugees must have hope that their turn will come soon - and 10,000 places per year, when at least 1 million people are in need of them, will not give sufficient hope.

One in a hundred, where saving a life, or giving a child a future is concerned, are probably not sufficient odds.

The number of places needs to be commensurate both to the size of the refugee population, and to the ambition of the EU’s goals. The EU cannot close smuggling routes, change the smugglers’ business model or protect its external borders with this low level of commitment.

It can bring some changes: the routes might shift to Italy, or Malta, or even along the coast to France or Spain; the business model might become more complex, and costly in lives and finances. Either way, the external borders will not be protected.

This is not to say that the EU leaders are not on the right lines - they are just seemingly not prepared to bite the bullet and go the whole way.

Resettlement

Resettlement, significant resettlement, could close down smuggling routes, break the business model, save lives and protect borders - putting governments in control of who arrives, when, and where.

But significant resettlement is going to mean the promise of something in the order of 300,000 places in 2016 (for a one in three chance), and if the conflict has not ended, then the same again in 2017 and so on, until every Syrian who needs protection has been resettled, or able to return to a peaceful country (or find an integration solution closer to home).

The same is going to be true of Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and every crisis that is producing massive numbers of refugees and displaced persons, and who are finding their way to Europe today.

The EU does not need to stand alone on this - cooperation with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and even Latin American nations which have started to resettle refugees, would help enormously.

This agreement is unlikely to achieve its goals, or be the last step. The best that can be hoped is that leaders are realising that resettlement is key to their managing this situation, saving lives and ensuring European citizens that their leaders are in control.

Joanne van Selm is an independent researcher on migration and refugee issues. She recently worked on projects for the European Commission, the UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration, and the European Parliament

Local elections to test Merkel on refugees

Three German states will hold elections on Sunday. Regional themes are overshadowed by the refugee crisis, and a breakthrough for anti-immigration party AfD looms.

Russia 'weaponising' refugees against EU

Russia is “weaponising migration” as part of a broader campaign to extend its influence in Europe, Nato’s military chief has said, echoing German and Turkish concern.

Agenda

Refugees, asylum and data protection This WEEK

Another EU summit will try to agree on the plan proposed by Turkey to take refugees in exchange for more help, while the Commission will present its proposal to overhaul the asylum system.

Failed relocation scheme to be used in EU-Turkey plan

In a preparatory document seen by EUobserver, EU Council president Tusk proposes that the EU merge its policy to relocate asylum seekers from Italy and Greece into a broader draft agreement with Turkey to reduce migrant flows.

EU leaders must show conscience on refugees

Aegean sea rescues, safe passage, EU relocations, quick payment of aid - EU leaders still have a chance to manage the crisis in a humane, orderly way, David Miliband writes.

News in Brief

  1. British PM scrapes through no confidence vote
  2. Spanish PM calls for EU gender equality strategy
  3. Farage says bigger Brexit majority if second referendum
  4. Macron starts 'grand debate' tour after yellow vests protests
  5. Barnier: up to London to take Brexit forward
  6. Stimulus still needed, ECB's Draghi says in final report
  7. May's Brexit deal defeated by 230 votes
  8. German economy hit by global economic turbulence

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  2. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  3. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift
  4. German spies to monitor far-right AfD party
  5. On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?
  6. UK parliament rejects May's Brexit deal in historic defeat
  7. EU suggests majority vote on digital tax by 2025
  8. MEPs redouble appeal on sexual harassment

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  2. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  3. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  6. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  8. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  10. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  11. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us