EU-Turkey Refugee Deal: Where are the Laws and Morality?

Article by Deepali Shukla


In an attempt to prevent illegal smuggling of migrants and their unchecked arrivals into European Union (hereinafter EU), the German Chancellor Angela Merkel brokered the controversial EU-Turkey refugee deal. It lays down that all irregular Syrian migrants (i.e. those migrating without the necessary authorization or documents required under immigration regulations of the destination country) who will arrive in Greece after March 20, 2016 shall be returned to Turkey. For every Syrian returned to Turkey, EU countries will take a Syrian refugee from Turkey on a purely voluntary basis.

It is clear that this is a ‘one for one’ policy in which Greek authorities are supposed to process all the information on a case by case basis, and those migrants who have not applied for asylum or whose application would be found inadmissible according to the Asylum Procedures Directive[1] (hereinafter ‘the Directive’) will be returned to Turkey in co-operation with the UNCHR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). Migrants who have never tried to enter or managed to enter EU will be given priority. The deal shall be terminated if the maximum number of refugees transferred increases to more than 75,000. In return, Turkey demands visa liberation for Turkish citizens in the EU Schengen Zone (provided it meets the remaining 35 criterions out of the 72), speedy accession into EU and a sum of 6 billion euros to carry out the work.[2]

According to Article 33(2)(c) of the Asylum Procedures Directive which deals with ‘inadmissible application’, an application will be considered inadmissible if a non-member country is a ‘safe third country’, which would be determined in terms of Article 38 of the Directive as a country where life and liberty of a person is not under danger on account of race, nationality, or religion.

Sending all these people back comes under the ambit of collective expulsion which is banned under the EU Charter and the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights). Moreover, the non-refoulement principle of international law prevents countries from returning refugees to unsafe countries. Turkey has been very courteous in applying the ‘open door policy’ for Syrians, as a result of which the number of refugees has now increased to 2 million and it cannot handle the continuing influx. The question remains as to whether Turkey is still a ‘safe third country since it is not governed by the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

Turkey has also returned hundreds of refugees who were kept in detention back to Syria which is a clear violation of the non-refoulement policy and has been reported to shoot and beat people trying to cross the border. It has refused to grant many the status of refugees merely reducing them to guests.[3] This has forced migrants into living on the Turkey-Syria border, whereas the international humanitarian standards require that the refugees be located at least 40 kilometres away from the border. There is a legal constraint on such migrants against carrying out any business and since most of them have exhausted their resources, they resort to illegal ways of working leading to societal tensions.

To worsen the situation, there are reported cases of mass rapes of Syrian women and slave trade in the region.[4] Although on papers, Turkey does provide education to Syrian refugees, in reality, nearly two-thirds of their kids do not receive any education.[5] Xenophobia has pervaded the state of affairs with polls showing that nearly 80% of Turks believe that refugees are a serious threat to their country. [6] Despite all of this, EU is rushing to declare Turkey as a ‘safe third country’ so that it can get a way to legally send the Syrian migrants back from Greece to Turkey.

The ‘one for one’ trade policy brings forth the mirage that EU has created. One person has to risk his life and travel through the most dangerous route of the world so that the other person can secure a relatively safer life in Europe. How can EU which has always been so proud of its great human values and has never hesitated from criticising other nations for the same, agree to sign such a deal that violates even the bare minimum human rights of the refugees? Besides, Turkey demands speedy accession to EU which raises the hard-hitting question that whether Turkey considers these refugees as humans or mere instruments to an ulterior objective? Is it a part of Turkey’s prolonged tactics to get into EU? Under the guise of this deal it is evident that Turkey has got a clean chit from EU for all the cases of torture and ill-treatment of Syrian refugees.

Multiple flaws have come forward in the implementation of this deal. It is a great administrative burden for Greece as it has to process each application separately and it is very unlikely that this will be done fairly. For the process to be effectively carried out, there needs to be individual assessments, interviews and rights of appeal. Each assessment and appeal requires great time and judges from all nations. EU nations are more than reluctant to allocate these judges because their own country is flooded by a million papers for determination and they cannot afford the loss of their human resource at such a crucial time.[7] Moreover, the UNHCR and ‘Save The Children’ have all questioned the moral and ethical ground of this deal and have refused to lend their support, without which it becomes highly difficult to convert hotspots into detention centres and carry on the herculean task.

Turkey’s demand of visa free travel for its citizens is remotely on the table right now as how many EU nations will actually be willing to do this is unclear. One attack on France has shaken EU to such an extent that it is now more conscious and vigilant than ever. There is no hope amidst such an atmosphere that any European nation would be ready to put its security at risk for Turkey.[8] Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has constantly reminded EU that if it does not get visa-free travel by June, it would terminate the deal. It is strange that EU is trying to overlook the fact that refugees are already willing to go on dangerous journeys to reach places which they consider “safe”. EU’s ban is not going to passively make them accept the deal and chances are high that they will discover alternate ways like crossing the Aegean Sea which is way more treacherous and costly. Even the journey by ferries and buses from Greece to Turkey that EU is organizing is highly risky.

Turkey has still not completely received its promised 6 billion euros under the deal. Till date, only Germany and Finland have contributed to it. Germany’s stance is obvious given the onus that it bears of making this deal successful, at least on paper, if not in spirit. There is no element in the deal which coerces or compels any nation to pay and since nations have shown no interest in contributing, nobody knows from where Turkey is going to get the money promised. Implementation of this deal is loaded with uncertainties and it is nothing more than EU’s attempt to outsource the solution for the problem. EU is forcing Greece to accelerate its asylum procedure with no proper enquiry so that more and more people are sent back to Turkey.

So, where are the laws and morality now?  Well, no one knows.


[1] The Asylum Procedures Directive establishes common standards of safeguards and guarantees to access a fair and efficient asylum procedure http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/asylum/common-procedures/index_en.htm

[2] European Commission, ‘Implementing the EU-Turkey Agreement – Questions and Answers’ (European Commission, 4 April 2016) http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-1221_en.htm

[3] Patrick Kingsley, ‘Turkey is no ‘‘safe haven” for refugees – it shoots them at the border’ (The Guardian, 1 April 2016) http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/01/turkey-safe-haven-refugees-shoots-border-illegal-deportations-syrians

[4] Khaled Abu Toameh, ‘Syrian Refugee Camps In Turkey – Human Traffickers – 30 Minute Rape Marriages – Syrian Girls Being Purchased’ (Mercy Wings, 20 December 2013) http://mercywings.org.ly/?p=398

[5] Diana Al Rifai, ‘Most Syrian refugee children not in school in Turkey’(Aljazeera, 9 November 2015 ) http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/11/syrian-refugees-school-turkey-151109101947670.html

[6] Press TV, ‘Most Turks hold negative view of Erdogan: Poll’ (Press TV, October 21 2015) http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2015/10/21/434349/Turkey-Erdogan-Pew-AKP-Syria-Iraq

[7] FT, ‘Major doubts over workability of EU-turkey refugee deal’ (The Columnist, March 19 2016) https://next.ft.com/content/0fd92e42-edd1-11e5-aff5-19b4e253664a

[8] Kerim Karakaya, ‘EU deal with Turkey to send back refugees already on thin ice’ (Al-Monitor, 21 March 2016)  http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/03/turkey-syria-european-union-refugee-deal.html


(Deepali is a student at Government Law College, Mumbai.)