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TematicheItalia ed EuropaEu-Turkey Agreement on Migrants and Refugees

Eu-Turkey Agreement on Migrants and Refugees


The question of migration in Europe is having a constantly increasing weight in the communitarian geopolitical context, representing the very first real crisis on the juridical and political endurance of the Union as shown, for example, from the political use of the topic during the present “Brexit” campaign. Notwithstanding, immigration has always been a thorny theme for the old continent and both the recent Arab springs and the contemporary conflicts in the Middle East region have exponentially increased the debate and emphasized the public opinion perception.

Nowadays, more than 250 million people in the world are migrants, representing nearly 3% of the global population. Historically speaking, the Mediterranean frontier has always occupied a relevant place in the complex of global migration, sided by other frontiers as the Mexico-USA frontier and the Asiatic frontier. In absolute terms, Italian shores have had the highest number of landings throughout European history, nonetheless in the most recent years the big news has been the overcoming of any possible prevision by the so called “Balkan route” – the route used by the people who enter the EU in Greece, try to make their way via the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia into Hungary and Croatia and then towards western Europe. In order to have a comparison measure, only in 2015 for the 153.000 migrants arrived on the Italian shores, there have been 851.319 landings on the Greek costs, clearly indicating that we are witnessing the opening of a new migration cycle.

Undoubtedly, migration represents a huge challenge for the entire European Union. Many have seen the recent suspension of the Schengen agreement as the emblem of the Union’s failure and of its policies, putting at great risk the cooperation among its Members. At the same time, it cannot be neglected that to achieve satisfying results the migratory governance cannot be unilaterally managed by European States, but instead it has to include countries way beyond the traditional Mediterranean area. In this sense, the collaboration among EU and Turkey could be seen as a first awareness of the need to have “filter countries” at the European borders.

In February 2016 Turkey was hosting about three million Syrian refugees, to whom it was according the temporary protection status thanks to the Joint Action Plan signed with Europe in November 2015 in the context of a wider framework “to step up cooperation for the support of Syrian refugees under temporary protection and their host communities in Turkey and to strengthen cooperation to prevent irregular migration flows to the EU”. The measures taken by the two parties have represented some steps forward in dealing with the migratory issue; nonetheless the efforts were not directly translated in a sufficient reduction of the flows. The predictions regarding the reduction in people arriving during winter weather conditions were unfulfilled: the stream did not suffer any significant reduction and started growing again in the last weeks of February. Hence the need for a new agreement in March in order to obtain the predetermined scopes indicated by the parties.

In the wider context of the European Agenda on migration under the presidency of Juncker, the two powers have reached a new entente for the management of migratory flows. The stated commitment was “to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU, breaking the business model of the smugglers and to offer migrants an alternative to putting their lives at risk” by intensifying police and costal control on the Turkish territory, having a higher information exchange rate and by opening to NATO driven activities in the area of the Aegean Sea.

The text of the agreement recognizes that Turkey has made significant improvements toward the recognition of the temporary protection status for its Syrian hosts. To support and assist this process, the European Union has committed itself to supply a much greater amount than the previous agreement: six billions Euros in two tranches to sustain the Turkish expenses for the reception of refugees.

The first criteria of eligibility of the migrant to achieve a possible placement inside the EU is that he/she has not previously opted for an irregular way to enter the Union: those who tried an illegal entry after March 20th, those who are applying for asylum once landed on Greek soil or those whose request will be rejected in accordance with current directives on asylum, will be repatriated to Turkey. Theoretically speaking, this type of rejection should serve as deterrent for all potential irregular migrants and gradually diminish the human flow from the Turkish coasts to the Greek ones, according to the mirage of the EU’s plan. One of the most important principles asserted is the “one for one” exchange: for each Syrian irregular migrant rejected from the Union on the Turkish soil, another Syrian will be placed from Turkey into the Union. Nothing is said about all those migrants coming from different geographical realities, nor the entente refers to how the placing mechanism will be practically operating, if not that the placement costs will be covered by Europe.

Between March 16 and April 8, before the pachydermic mechanism could fully enter to force, only 163 refugees were placed from the Greek shores into one of the Member States: the European Commission had set six thousand placements as its goal for mid-April; 20.000 for mid-May. The data appears quite discouraging. In addition to the increasingly obvious lack of will to cooperate by the 28 different governments of the Union – some of which are building walls, establishing maximum thresholds of reception, or closing their frontiers and delegating the problem to their neighbours –, the accord itself appears impracticable to the eyes of many as to the numbers it provides: it refers to a maximum threshold of 72 thousands placements in the EU. Once reached that amount, the mechanism will be interrupted since it would have failed in its intention to work as deterrent for illegal migration. Only in 2015 those who arrived in Turkey are over one million, this makes obvious how the afore mentioned threshold is completely unsuitable for the emergency explosion of the most recent years: the migration flow is way greater that optimistic figures of the EU.

Many more questions arise from the entente. How will the distribution among Member States be managed? Other than the “regular/irregular” and “Syrian/ non Syrian” criteria, who will be considered “more eligible”? How will the asylum seeker be integrated in the new social and labour realities they will be placed into? Jean-Claude Junker and Donald Tusk have assured that this mechanism is only temporary due to the immediate emergency. Once stopped, or drastically reduced, the flow from Turkey, they have said that a “voluntary humanitarian admission programme” among EU and Turkey will be applied. This voluntary humanitarian admission programme has been proposed by the Commission in December 2015, it will regard “people in need of protection since displaced due to the conflict in Syria”, and it will be held in cooperation with EASO and IOM.

Finally, the choice of Turkey as a strategic partner raises questions regarding its ethical nature: is the migrant’s security granted on Turkish soil? Is it granted for both the ones waiting and the ones rejected by the EU? Isn’t the Union just delegating to the Turkish authorities the “dirty job”, turning a blind eye to the democratic deficiency of its partner?

Though official authorities have expressed their satisfaction for the agreement, even some voices in the European Parliament have strongly criticized the entente, underpinning its weaknesses and highlighting how the counterparty of the agreement could be de facto defined as an authoritarian power. All the critics, added to the domestic difficulties of both powers – Euroscepticism on one side and the evident Turkish democratic lacks on the other – make the baseless agreement even more fragile. The EU-Turkey relationship presents faces hard to smooth, and Erdogan isn’t certainly easy to interpret or manage: already on the 7th of April 2016 the Turkish President during a summit in Ankara has threatened to retire from the agreement if Brussels did not respect its promises, complaining that the maintenance of nearly 3 million refugees was still an expense of the Turkish budget. In this sense, also the recognition by the German Parliament of the Armenian genocide, and the most recent news regarding at least 8 Syrian refugees, including four children, killed by Turkish guards while trying to cross the border between Kherbet al-Jouz, in the northeast of Syria, and the province of Hatay to access in Turkey, are certainly posing in danger the entire architecture built around the Joint Action Plan.

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