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The current state of affairs on the 2016 EU-Turkey Statement

Maddalen Martin-Arteche , 16 mars 2020

On 18 March 2016, the heads of State and government of the 28 EU Member States (gathered within the European Council) and Turkey signed the so-called “EU-Turkey Statement” in an attempt to address the migration crisis. For that purpose, the Statement put in place a mechanism whereby all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 would be returned to Turkey. Also, whereby for every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian would be resettled from Turkey to the EU. In compensation for Turkey’s efforts to combat irregular migration into the EU, the members of the European Council committed to lifting visa requirements for Turkish citizens and to disburse an initial 3 billion euros under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey and to mobilize an additional 3-billion-euro funding up to the end of 2018.

Today, Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide, most of whom are Syrian individuals. Turkey currently implements a temporary protection regime for 3,587,266 Syrians, which grants beneficiaries the right to legally stay in Turkey, as well as some level of access to basic services.

 In recent weeks, the number of irregular migrant-crossings from Syria to Turkey has increased. According to the Turkish Armed Forces sources, in February 2020, a total number of 19,755 irregular border crossings into Turkey were registered, 16,892 of which entered Turkey from the Syrian Arab Republic. The increase in the number of border-crossings is due to the intensified fighting between Syrian and Turkish forces in the Syrian province of Idlib, located in the northwest of Syria, close to the Turkish border.

Overwhelmed by the number of refugees in its territory and the arrival of new migrants in need of international protection, Turkey announced last week that that it would no longer prevent migrants from reaching the EU. According to the Turkish Armed Forces sources, in February 2020, 2,383 irregular crossings were registered from Turkey into Greece. In addition, 13,000 people would be gathered in Pazarkule and Ipsala, at the Turkish border with Greece. Turkey would be trying to exert pressure on the EU so that the EU honors its obligations under the EU-Turkey Statement, notably, the commitment to disburse the 6-million budget allocated to the Facility for Refugees in Turkey.

In response to Turkey’s unwillingness to prevent irregular migrants from crossing the Turkish border into Greece, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on 1 March 2020 that the level of deterrence at the Greek borders would be increased at the maximum and more importantly, that the Greek authorities would not be accepting any new asylum applications during the next month.

The EU’s response to the aforementioned events has been immediate. On 4 March 2020, the Commission announced that the EU and its Member States would adopt an Action Plan of measures to provide support to Greece in managing the extraordinary situation at its external borders, including, among others, financial assistance of up to 700 million euros and the provision of medical equipment, shelters, tents, blankets, etc. via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

On 9 March, Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen met President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Brussels to discuss the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement. As a result of the dialogue, Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and his counterpart in Turkey, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, have been charged with the task to work on clarifying the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement.

Undoubtedly, the EU’s rapid response in support of Greece will help the Hellenic Republic cope better with the strand of irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greece. Be that as it may, the adoption of the Commission’s proposal for a new Dublin system to determine which EU Member State is responsible for examining an asylum application is the elephant in the room. The adoption of the Commission’s proposal for a Dublin IV system would bring in a fairness mechanism to be applied when Member States are confronted with a disproportionate number of asylum applications. In concreto, all new asylum applications made after the triggering of the mechanism would be relocated across the EU Member States. However, negotiations are deadlocked within the Council.

In light of the above, agreeing on a reformed Dublin system capable of discharging EU frontline States from the overload of asylum applications and the pressure on their external borders would be a clear expression of solidarity by EU Member States.

Maddalen MARTIN ARTECHE, The current state of affairs on the 2016 EU-Turkey Statement, actualité du CEJE nº 10/2020, disponible sur : www.ceje.ch