Editorial of April 2016


by Emília Castro, Researcher at Faculty of Law, Universität Hamburg

The EU-Turkey deal and the migration crisis – or how far refugees are from an equal and dignified treatment

The ever-increasing flow of people around the globe is an unarguable consequence of the globalization process, which we have undergone, mainly as of the twentieth century. However, the world seems to have been drawing its attention to the movement of people around the globe not in the very last century, but mostly in the last two years. The nowadays called “migration crisis” has been showing the international society how difficult it is to struggle against some dire situations some people experience in their home countries.

Mainly because of its strong economy and its tradition of human rights, the European Union has been figuring as the main destination of refugees: more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015 – and there are no signs these numbers are reducing in 2016.

In March 2016, however, the European Union seemed to have taken a step back on refugees’ Human Rights protection. The EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan was put into practice on March 20th  for the sake of managing the refugee crisis. In a nutshell, some of the main aspects of this deal (called by the EU as “principles”) consider[i]:

1) The return of all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands with the costs covered by the European Union;

2) The resettlement of Syrian nationals: for every irregular Syrian returned from the Greek islands and readmitted by Turkey, another regular Syrian will be resettled to the EU Member States directly from Turkey. In order to achieve this goal, EU Member States should make a sufficient number of resettlement places available.

Some principles of this Joint Action Plan draw Turkey and the EU together. In compensation for the return and resettlement scheme – and apart from the obviously needed disbursement of funds under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, which will be sped up – the Commission and Member States are working on advancing the accession negotiations with Turkey. Moreover, by the end of April 2016, the European Commission should make a legislative proposal to lift the visa requirements for Turkish citizens who want to enter the EU territory.

On the one hand – as one of the reasons for this deal – we find the European Union calling for more protection to refugees, closing down people smuggling routes, breaking the business model of the smugglers, protecting the external borders of the EU and preventing migrants from easily getting into the European territory.  On the other hand, taking advantage of the EU´s goals and wills, we have Turkey, glimpsing a way of becoming a Member State of the EU.

Two sides, two interests, many different goals, and many lives depending on those goals. More than that: two sides playing with lives of people who have already suffered enough while escaping from wars, persecution and many other dire situations in their home countries, as well as during their way to the European shores. Even though Human Rights Protection was planned to be the main part of the scheme, the scheme itself is being perpetrated against human dignity.

If the EU is planning to discourage refugees from taking the Aegean Sea rout, much more dangerous routs (such as, through Africa, reaching Europe by Spain) will now be taken,  which, as a matter of fact, will also not prevent the EU from receiving more refugees crossing its borders. Moreover, security in the hotspots cannot be guaranteed: since 20th March there are several reports[ii] on fights between Afghan and Syrian men, as well as on fears of sexual harassment and violence against women and children. The hotspots may now start becoming a place of detention of migrants, who have to make their way to Turkey as soon as possible. Nevertheless, it has been noticed that aid agencies in Greece have been partially suspending their operations in protest against the conditions of refugees who are detained in these hotspots – they do not want to make themselves complicit with such an inhumane scheme.  Needless to say that, in order to receive a greater amount of people who will have to be “stored” in Greece until they are taken to Turkey, Greece will also have to increase its reception capacity, adapting its hotspots to host readmission and asylum offices.

Another point that should not be forgotten regards the changes both Greek and Turkish law will have to go through by the time this Joint Action Plan has been accepted. These changes have been foreseen by the EU-Turkey deal itself, but there are way too many national law details that shall be deeply analyzed, which are not the main focus of this brief analysis. First of all, Greece should consider Turkey as a safe third country, which seems to be – especially in the last few years – a difficult task. Turkey has been facing several terrorist attacks that put the lives of Turkish people at risk, and, at the same time, has been opening a path towards dictatorship – will that country also be prepared to save people who are suffering from persecution in their home countries, providing them social assistance, healthcare, work and education?  Furthermore, Turkey also has to surpass its legal barriers in order to put the EU-Turkey deal into practice: Turkey has many opt-outs in the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and has many legal classifications to describe people who are not from Turkey and are persecuted in their home countries who are entitle to Human Rights protection. In Turkey, the core definition of the term refugee, for example, excludes people who are not from Europe; that is called the geographical limitation of the refugee status under the ,urkish law.

It is necessary that the EU opens its horizons and thinks about the migration crisis as a whole, taking into account the millions of lives that are in its hands, having in mind Human Rights are much more than a beautiful expression to keep shouting out; Human Rights should be brought to the cruel reality of the European shores. The institutionalization and legalization of “asylum shopping” is definitely not the answer for the migration crisis Europe has been facing.


[i] Further details on the principles can be learned from the European Commission’s press release of the 16th of March 2016, available at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-830_en.htm

[ii] “Aid agencies suspending operations in Greece”, available at: https://euobserver.com/migration/132798 and “EU-Turkey deal gets reality check”, available at: https://euobserver.com/migration/132762.

Picture credits: Syria refugee crisis by European Parliament.

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