Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe 18.3.16


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 EU-Turkey Summit: EU-Turkey statement, 18 March 2016 (pdf):

As from tomorrow, 20 March 2016 all refugees and migrant not lodging an asylum application successfuly will be returned to Turkey - but how will the EU ensure that Turkey does not carry out collective expulsion (refoulement) and how can it operate before Grece has agreed that Turkey is a safe country (which it is not) to return people to? There are special provisions for Syrians but refugees from other states will returned to the very countires they fled from.

"All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey. This will take place in full accordance with EU and international law, thus excluding any kind of collective expulsion. All migrants will be protected in accordance with the relevant international standards and in respect of the principle of non-refoulement. It will be a temporary and extraordinary measure which is necessary to end the human suffering and restore public order. Migrants arriving in the Greek islands will be duly registered and any application for asylum will be processed individually by the Greek authorities in accordance with the Asylum Procedures Directive, in cooperation with UNHCR. Migrants not applying for asylum or whose application has been found unfounded or inadmissible in accordance with the said directive will be returned to Turkey."

See: "Critics brand EU deal with Turkey on migrants 'a dark day for humanity (AOL News, link): "But the deal was described as "a dark day for humanity" by human rights group Amnesty International, whose UK director Kate Allen said: "It's absolutely shameful to see leaders seeking to abandon their legal obligations. Forcing refugees back into the hands of the very smugglers they just came from so they can have another go at exploiting them is obviously a madness. There's no way anyone should herald this as a solution."

 UNHCR statistics (17.3.16): 156,256 arrivals in the EU: 143,886 to Greece, 11,912 to Italy, 464 dead/missing.

 European Council 17-18 March 2016: Conclusions (pdf): This is not the text of the EU-Turkey deal, which is supposed to take the form of a "statement". However, much of the text concerns the issue of migration and cooperation with Turkey, and also hints at the possibility of military or other action within Libyan territory:

"In this context, the fight against smugglers everywhere and by all appropriate means remains key. The EU stands ready to support the Government of National Accord, as the sole legitimate government of Libya, including, at its request, to restore stability, fight terrorism and manage migration in the central Mediterranean."

 EU, Turkey reach deal to return asylum seekers: Sources (Middle East Eye, link): "EU and Turkish officials have agreed a deal that will see hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers returned to Turkey in exchange for accelerated accession to the EU after hours of crunch talks in Brussels on Friday.

Asylum seekers will begin being forcibly returned from Europe to Turkey from 20 March if EU member states agree to the terms of the deal, a spokesperson for European Council chief Donald Tusk told Sky News.

The deal has so far only been agreed by Tusk and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, an EU source told Danish journalist Per Thiemann, and must now be put to the union's 28 member states.

The precise terms of the deal have not yet been made public."

And: EU strikes deal with Turkey to send back refugees (The Guardian, link): "The EU has struck a deal with Turkey that would mean all refugees and migrants arriving in Europe from Sunday being sent back across the Aegean Sea.

The European council president, Donald Tusk, cleared key sticking points with the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, during talks on Friday morning. “The Turkey agreement has been approved,” Finland’s prime minister, Juha Sipila, said on Twitter."

 EU-TURKEY DEAL: "On the edge of international law" - or against it?

As the EU and Turkey come closer to an agreement that aims to keep refugees and migrants out of Europe, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite has said that a proposed deal, on which EU heads of state and government agreed yesterday (Thursday 17 March), "is on the edge of international law.” Civil society organisations, meanwhile, say that the proposals under discussions, if agreed, would be illegal.

In late-night talks on Thursday:

"EU leaders agreed... a 'common position' to put to Turkey... but with enough disagreement among the 28 leaders to prevent publication of an agreed text." (EU agrees ‘joint position’ to put to Turkey on Friday, EurActiv, link)

On Wednesday 16 March, Statewatch published a leaked draft of the proposed agreement (pdf), put together before Thursday's meeting.EurActiv is posting live updates on today's meeting between the EU and Turkey: Live: #EUCO Spring Summit... on refugee crisis, again (link)

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, highlighting the possibility of fast-track returns of asylum-seekers to Turkey, the situation within the country for refugees, and Turkey's dismal human rights record in general, has said:

"Let’s not confuse desperation for legality when it comes to Europe’s proposed refugee deal with Turkey. No one should be under any illusion - the very principle of international protection for those fleeing war and persecution is at stake.

Every government in Europe will have to declare its hand this week: does it uphold the right to seek asylum, or does it subordinate that right to horse trading with a country that has an inadequate record of respecting it." (Say No To A Bad Deal With Turkey, link)

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network has also issued a statement: EU-Turkey: Say No to this Pact of Shame! (link) and Access Info Europe has filed access to documents requests (link) to the Council of the EU, the European Commission and the European Parliament to ask "whether they sought legal advice on or properly evaluated the human rights impacts of the deal." 21 NGOs working with people on the ground have signed a letter to the European Council (pdf) saying:

"A response to the humanitarian crisis in Europe must build on the work of last year and squarely address the current, clear gaps in policy, whilst fully respecting the law and spirit of the EU’s own legislation and the 1951 Refugee Convention."

And, last month Statewatch published a detailed anaylsis setting out why Turkey could not be considered a "safe third country" (pdf).

According to the Financial Times, issues to be discussed today include:

"Turkey’s refusal to apply full international standards on refugees, a Cypriot veto on opening parts of Ankara’s EU-membership talks, and Greece’s demands for thousands more staff to implement the plan.

Differences also remain on the EU side over promises to accept Syrian migrants directly from Turkey to compensate for those turned back from Greek islands. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said the final round of negotiations “will be anything but easy”. François Hollande, the French president, added: “I can’t guarantee you a happy conclusion.” (EU and Turkey harden positions over latest migration plan, Financial Times, link)

European Parliament president Martin Schulz has said (pdf) that the the EU "cannot and should not 'outsource' our problems to Turkey," although he does not appear to have gone so far as to denounce the proposed deal.

In any case, the European Parliament will not have a say on every aspect of the deal under question, which is due to take the form of a "statement" rather than any form of binding international agreement.

However, various aspects of the proposed deal (or at least that which has been made public), such as "new Greek, Turkish and EU laws (or their implementation), and the further implementation of the EU/Turkey readmission agreement - will have to be approved at the relevant level". On this issue, see: The draft EU/Turkey deal on migration and refugees: is it legal? (EU Law Analysis, link)

How exactly Greece would be able to implement the proposals remains open to question: "If approved, the deal will entail a huge amount of legal and technical work for Greek authorities in the next few days."

This includes changing Greek law to recognise Turkey as a "safe third country" to which asylum seekers can be returned; applications for asylum would have to be processed in days rather than months; around 8,000 people would have to be moved from Greek islands to the mainland; and a system would need to be set up on the islands "to register and process any new arrivals... and examine their asylum applications." This would need "hundreds of public servants and other personnel" - judges, asylum officials, border guards translators and others - to be stationed on the islands. See: Greece has much legal, technical work to do if EU reaches refugee deal with Turkey (Ekathimerini, link)

Meanwhile, British prime minister David Cameron used the summit to call for greater efforts to implement a policy of push-backs to Libya:

"Cameron said the EU rescue mission in the central Mediterranean needs to be expanded so that the international operation’s boats work with the Libyan coastguards to send boats back to Libya." (David Cameron: send more patrol ships to turn refugee boats back to Libya, The Guardian, link)

 More on the proposed EU-Turkey deal

Joint Migreurop/AEDH statement: The Turkey/European Union agreement : Externalising borders to end the right to asylum (link): "At a further summit meeting in Brussels on the 17 and 18 March, the EU and Turkey will adopt an agreement intended to resolve what is wrongly described as the ‘migrant crisis’. This is a plan above all that will allow the European Union to push refugees back beyond EU borders, and to subcontract its obligations to Turkey. Thus will members states flee their responsibilities in defiance of the right to asylum. Migreurop, a European and African network that unites some 50 organisations which defend the rights of migrants, and the European Association for the Defence of Human Rights (AEDH) strongly oppose this agreement and demand that the Union respects its international obligations."

What the people-smugglers of Istanbul make of the EU’s deal with Turkey (The Spectator, link): "There are no police to be seen in Aksaray. Abu Omar, a smuggler loitering in the square, laughs off Turkey’s deal as little more than hot air. ‘The Turkish coastguards aren’t doing anything,’ he assures Abdurrahman, who is posing as a potential client. ‘It’s a question of luck whether you’ll make it or not.’ The new Brussels agreement won’t save the unlucky.

Abu Omar is one of many Syrian brokers in Aksaray who connect migrants to smugglers and hope eventually to save up enough money to make the crossing to Europe themselves. It’s the Turks who control the business. ‘Turks are at the heart of the smuggling operations,’ explains Ahmad, a Syrian who now lives in the UK — having spent two months being smuggled in from Syria last year. ‘They organise everything, including co-ordinating with the police and coastguards.’"

 EESC report reveals true extent of migrant crisis (European Economic and Social Committee, link): "Persecution, conflict and poverty drove more than one million people to seek safety in Europe last year. Significant numbers went missing or died (most drowned) making the arduous journey. The majority who reached Europe made their way across the Mediterranean, arriving mainly in Greece and Italy. For those who survived, arrival in Europe has rarely meant the end of suffering and harsh conditions.

As part of its reflections on EU migration strategy, the EESC published a report based on fact-finding country visits and meetings with more than 180 stakeholders, mainly from civil society organisations actively working with refugees and migrants. The report was presented during the EESC’s March Plenary session, in the context of debates on the EU’s external policy and migration with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

In order to identify the problems and needs and share the best practices of various actors in the current refugee crisis, EESC delegations visited 11 EU Member States (Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden) in December 2015 and January 2016."

The full report: EESC fact-finding missions on the situation of refugees, as seen by civil society organisations (pdf). "Key messages":

  • Reduce the number of (irregular) arrivals
  • Receive and assist refugees in a humane way
  • Better support for civil society organisations
  • Change the narrative
  • Ensure the integration of refugees

Reports for each of the countries visited by the EESC (pdfs):

The reports are also available in French and German on the EESC website (link).

 MEPs want EU embassies and consulates to grant asylum seekers humanitarian visas (EP press release, pdf): "To dissuade refugees from putting their lives at risk by entrusting them to people smugglers, EU consulates and embassies should be allowed to issue humanitarian visas to persons seeking international protection, said Civil Liberties Committee MEPs voting on an update of the EU Visa Code on Wednesday. These visas would enable holders to enter the country issuing the visa in order to apply for asylum."

And see a study from September 2014: Humanitarian Visas: Option or Obligation? (pdf)

 CEPS briefing: Migration and Asylum Data for Policy-making in the European Union The problem with numbers (pdf) by Ann Singleton: "The migration, humanitarian and policy crises in the European Union during 2015 and early 2016 have highlighted, among all the other problems, a pressing need for reliable, timely and comparable statistical data on migration and asylum, as well as on arrivals at national borders. The problematic use of asylum data in policy has been discussed in an earlier paper in this series (Mouzourakis, 2014). Such data are needed to develop appropriate policies to deal with the crises, but also to monitor the effectiveness of the EU and national free movement and labour migration policies, and to monitor the extent to which authorities meet the Treaty and secondary legislative obligations in this field. The data are crucial not only to the implementation of national and EU-wide policy, but also as monitoring tools, and to inform public discussion. In this highly politicised field, analysing and understanding data is as much an art as a science."

 Leaders of European think tanks call for action in the refugee crisis (Bertelsmann Stiftung, link): "European leaders need to implement common European solutions to the refugee crisis. Only joint solutions can credibly and effectively reduce the growing human suffering and social and political turmoil. Leaders of seven European think tanks and foundations have signed an open letter to European politicians spotlighting five urgent measures for addressing the crisis."

The letter: Open Letter by the conveners of the Vision Europe Summit regarding the refugee crisis in Europe and the necessity to act now: The refugee crisis: A European call for action (pdf)

 News (18.3.16)

Two migrants dead as Italy rescues 2,000 off Libya (The Local, link): " Nearly 2,000 migrants and two corpses have been recovered from people smugglers' boats off Libya since Tuesday, Italy's coastguard said on Wednesday.

Further rescue operations were ongoing, a spokesman told AFP.

The figures represent a pick-up in the flow of migrants attempting to reach Italy via Libya, a route through which around 330,000 people have made it to Europe since the start of 2014."

Refugee summit: David Cameron to send Royal Navy warships to Libya 'to deter migrants' (The Independent, link): "David Cameron wants to deploy Royal Navy vessels close to the coast of Libya to deter thousands of migrants from embarking on the perilous sea journey to Europe this summer.

The Prime Minister told European Union leaders at a summit in Brussels that he is extending the deployment of HMS Enterprise on anti-trafficking operations in the central Mediterranean at least until the summer, and wants to see the mission expanded into Libyan territorial waters to enhance its deterrent effect."

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