The EU-Turkey Deal was signed six years ago today (it came into effect two days later, on 20 March 2016).
As we and many others advised at the time, the Deal was a poor idea, written in a moment of panic by EU staff who had watched as, in their desperation to prevent refugees entering their countries, EU member states sent armed officers to, and built walls along, their borders with other EU member states: in short, the EU really ceased to exist or several months in 2015-16.
The Deal breaks international law: it demands that Turkey prevents people from leaving, which is a fundamental human right, and that anyone who does leave Turkey will be immediately sent back, which not only breaks international law on refoulement, but also on the fact that every person who arrives in a country and asks to apply for asylum must be allowed to do so, and that every application must be considered on its own individual merits – it is illegal to deny someone asylum automatically because of which country they are from or have travelled from.
And of course, it was never likely to work. First of all because it was clear the EU would not fulfil the promises it made to the Turkish government (that it would accelerate Turkey’s EU membership process, and provide visa-free travel in the EU to all Turkish people – there are good reasons why these promises have not been kept, but the EU made them – and would give Turkey €6bn by 31 December 2018. In fact, by March 2021, it had paid it just €4.7bn), secondly because it is – as has been proven – literally impossible to prevent people leaving one country for another (since the Statement was signed, at the very least 213,558 people have arrived in Greece. The number is likely to be far higher because it includes zero of those illegally pushed back at the Evros border, and because the Greek government itself has issued figures showing at least 25,000 more people have arrived than appear in its own publicly-released documents).
These broken promises have, predictably, led to the Turkish government refusing to accept Syrian ‘returnees’.
Finally, it was never likely to work because it showed so clearly how frightened the EU was of people seeking asylum, a fear which could easily be used by the Turkish government to make demands upon the EU. Not only does it break international law, and not only has the EU broken every promise it made within it, it has also significantly weakened the EU and the international legal system in which the EU exists and claims to stand for.
As we have noted (Thursday 10 March 2022 ‘Safe third countries’ list resulted in almost doubling of asylum application rejections) Greece’s own new law, naming Turkey as a ‘safe third country’ for refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Somalia and Pakistan, made on 8 June 2021, quite aside from being used illegally to deny people asylum, and ludicrous because Turkey does not even meet its own criteria as a ‘safe state’ and indeed the concept does not exist in international law and should not be used when making an asylum decision, has resulted in the rate of rejections of asylum in Greece almost doubling.
The (I)NGOs International Rescue Committee, Danish Refugee Council, Refugees International, Save the Children, the Greek Council for Refugees, HumanRights360, Terre des hommes, and the Greek Forum of Refugees have noted that 60 per cent of all asylum applications made in Greece last year came from nationals of these five states, and the number of rejections for asylum as ‘inadmissible’ rose from 2,839 in 2020, to 6,424 in 2021.
Their research also notes that in 2020, before the Greek government’s illegal new law came into effect, 92 per cent of Syrian applicants for asylum, 94 per cent of Somalians and 66 per cent of Afghans were recognised as refugees.
We say this almost every year at this time. But it is beyond time for the EU and Greece to ditch its illegal, immoral and failed ‘Deal’ with Turkey, and for the Greek government to end its illegal misuse of the term ‘safe third state’.