30 March 2016

Interesting interview in Dutch daily paper NRC with the leader of the Labour Party, Diederik Samsom. He was one of the key players persuading the Dutch EU presidency and his coalition partner Mark Rutte to back the Merkel Plan and talks with Turkey … and thus it became the Samsom plan as well. Samsom explains how this happened, and what should happen next. 

The original interview (in Dutch) is here: http://www.nrc.nl/next/2016/03/29/ik-verzoen-me-met-de-schade-het-resultaat-is-bi-1604109

 

“I reconcile myself to the damage, the result is in ‘

Interview with Diederik Samsom

(translation ESI)

Samsom called the European agreements to stem the flow of migrants across the sea “hard and humane”. The Labour leader looks back at his role in the deal with Turkey and at the fierce criticism he received for it.

From our editors Stéphane Alonso and Annemarie Kas, The Hague.

Reach your goal, reap no appreciation. The recently concluded refugee deal with Turkey has, politically, cost PvdA (Party of Labour) leader Diekerik Samsom more than it brought him for now.

His appeal to start with an ‘air bridge’ from Turkey angered his coalition partner VVD and his proposal to send refugees back to Turkey is opposed by humanitarian organizations and legal experts. Now there is a deal with precisely these two elements: fewer illegal migration (return) in exchange for more legal migration (airlift). This should discourage refugees to make the dangerous crossing and at the same time offer them a safe alternative in Turkey. “Hard and humane,” Samsom calls the agreement.

What role did Samsom actually play in this story? According to Gerald Knaus of the think tank European Stability Initiative he was “very important”. Knaus is the spiritual father of the deal. But his ideas, he says, only took off when Samsom and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made them political.

Next weekend Samsom will go to Lesbos to see how, and if, the agreement is being implemented. The challenge is enormous: from the 20th of March refugees are no longer allowed to travel on to the Greek mainland, but the first readmissions are schedule for around the 4th of April. The administration is now preparing for the new procedure. However, aid agencies withdrew last week because shelters on the Greek islands are said to be turned into ‘detention centers’.

 

SAMSOM

 

Do you understand that aid agencies have withdrawn their support?
“I do not understand what it is that they no longer want to be a part of. Aid organizations were not involved in the asylum procedure and neither should they be. They help and support the refugees. I am sorry if this withdrawal remains: the critical eye of Save the Children is an added value on those islands. And of course the asylum procedures must comply with international treaties, that is my starting point. ”

What is your first impression: does it work?
“There was not enough shelter during the first days, but now there is work to create better care for women and children. The inflow is declining. Not to zero, but passing from 2,500 a day to around 200 is a significant decline. Whether this decline continues remains to be seen. ”

When will the EU start to take refugees in from Turkey?
“As soon as Turkey starts with taking back refugees. Ideally, the same hour, the same minute even. ”

The images of refugees that have to be returned will be quite shocking. Do you find that difficult?
“That this is uncomfortable is indisputable. But the point is that no more people drown. ”

Who still dares to cross to Greece, forfeits his chance of legal migration to Europe. Is such a harsh punishment necessary?
“That is not literally what is put in the agreements. We want to help the most vulnerable, people in eastern Turkey who have nowhere to go, have nothing and are dependent on food aid. The people who cross are still those who can afford it. This form of Darwinism is what we oppose. We are investing 6 billion euros in improving the situation for refugees in Turkey. For that reason I would avoid the word punishment.”

Non-Syrians have less protection in Turkey. According to Amnesty, Afghans are harshly deported. Can you return these refugees to Turkey?
“We (the Netherland) also deport people back to Afghanistan.”

Not without an asylum procedure. Aren’t these deportations alarming?
“There is reason to be alert. If refugees do not receive protection in Turkey, they do not go back. That is clear. However, this creates a gap and the concept falls to pieces, which is also not what you want. Turkey must therefore give everyone the same protection. This is also what is agreed upon. ”

Turkey thinks differently about fundamental issues such as press freedom and human rights. Did you sell your soul?
“No. I will not let 2.7 million Syrians become victims in Turkey because Erdogan does not behave as we want him to. We also can refuse to talk to Turkey: we did that for ten years and that certainly did not improve the situation. ”

The EU previously signed an agreement with Turkey, in November last year. The country then promised to stop refugees in exchange for 3 billion euros. Nothing came of it. Samsom realized during a visit to Izmir in December that the Turkish guards would never win the cat-and-mouse game with refugees. On the plane back to the Netherlands Samsom read the plan of Gerald Knaus: a Eureka moment. He discussed it at the coalition meeting and on the 17th of December Rutte presented it at a mini-summit of EU leaders in Brussels as the ‘Samsom Plan.”

Why on earth did they use this name?
“It was a smart move by Mark Rutte, directed at the Austrian leader Werner Faymann, like me a Social Democrat. He thought: if I say that it comes from Samsom, Faymann has to listen. Typically Mark. ”

Chancellor Angela Merkel was already working on it by then?
“Yes, much earlier. Only she put emphasis on the legal migration, while the plan only works if you also tackle illegal migration. Knaus needed someone who could take this policy to the next level. He himself was convincing civil servants, but the impact of this is limited. ”

What did Rutte report to you from Brussels?
“It was well received, but as a sort of Plan B. The original plan was still just to stop everything.”

The first time you spoke publicly about this plan, you said that people would be returned “by returning ferry”. That was perceived wrongly, also by the European Commission.
“That’s right. We could have done things better along the line. On the other hand, I felt inclined to explain the plan as well as I possibly could to everyone. ”

You visited European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos (Migration) and President Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission.
“The three of us talked about the plan for 20 minutes, in every detail. I realized again how strong Knaus’ idea was. ”

On March 3rd you added something else: Europe had to start soon with resettlement from Turkey. You received strong criticism.

“Angela Merkel was just before state elections then, so she simply could not say this. It would have been much better if she would have done it, because, who am I? But someone had to say out loud that the EU wants make legal immigration possible. There, the Turkish negotiators were stuck. They thought: we do not want to be an open-air prison “.

You got Mark Rutte angry.
“Mark made a different assessment of the negotiations. He said: as of yet we are not prepared for an airlift. I do not know his definition of “as of yet”, but three days later it was on the table. ”
Thanks to your statements in the press?

“I do not know. I only know that on Thursday the cabinet still said nothing happened in the diplomatic area, and on Sunday the Turks were on board.”

Turkey suggested that for every refugee they accepted back from Greece, they could send one Syrian to the EU. Who came up with that?
“I did. Given their mistrust we had to find a way to be on an equal footing. That was difficult. Mark thought: then they will let a million people go to Lesbos and we will have one million refugees. Various formulas came along, “one plus five minus two,” it seemed like mathematics. ”

In the Parliament and the Dutch public opinion your efforts were not appreciated.

“I was not concerned with what should have happened here in terms of publicity. That was not important enough to pay much attention to. ”

You still have a parliamentary group and a political party you need to take into consideration? Elections are only a year away.
“This is all true. I am not taking this lightly. But I reconcile myself to it, because the result is in already. If you think with everything you do “I want to do this, but without damage to the party” then nothing happens. Absolutely nothing. I am ready to tell my supporters that there are uncomfortable parts to this story. That there is a limit to what we can handle as a country. That refugees should be manageable. ”

Wouldn’t it be better if you started working in Brussels, far away from the village mentality of the Hague?
“I do not see it like that. Often enough I do not enjoy my position, but this time I coincidentally found myself in a place where I could do the right thing. Certainly I was not alone. If Angela Merkel had not pulled hard, and if Mark had not been so hyperactive, it would not have been successful. Somewhere along the way Mark made this joke: gosh, I need to call this the Rutte plan, because it seems to be successful after all. ”

More here: www.esiweb.org/refugees

 

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Filed under: Netherlands,Refugees — Gerald @ 8:31 am
28 March 2016

EU-Turkey deal and the future of asylum – Part One 

On 18 March, the European Union and Turkey reached an agreement, calling for “swift and determined efforts” to stop irregular migration in the Aegean. EU member states also asked the European Commission “to coordinate all necessary support for Greece.”

Ten days later, three things are obvious: first, no credible plans for implementing the EU-Turkey agreement had been prepared before 18 March; second, the steps announced by the European Commission since then to implement this agreement are inadequate: third, if all measures agreed on 18 March are adopted now then the EU-Turkey can turn out to be the breakthrough the EU has been trying to find for many months.

As Jean-Claude Juncker put it in his State of the Union speech on 9 September 2015, this is “not the time for business as usual”; there is a need for a genuine, bold European response; and “the first priority for the EU is and must be addressing the refugee crisis.” Here is a concrete suggestion how all of this might be done.

This essay – part one in a series of blog entries – outlines what needs to be done for the credible implementation of the EU-Turkey Agreement.  The next essays will look at other elements of the deal: prospects for voluntary resettlement from Turkey, the visa liberalisation effort, and finally how successful and complete implementation of the EU-Turkey deal can put down a foundation for a future EU asylum policy.  

 

18 March and Brussels’ lack of preparation

On 16 March, two days before the EU-Turkey summit in Brussels, the European Commission published two communications. One was about “next operational steps in EU-Turkey cooperation in the field of migration.” The other was a “first report on relocation and resettlement.”

The first communication sets out six principles for EU-Turkey cooperation. The first principle puts human rights and legal safeguards of irregular migrants and asylum seekers at the centre of all EU policy. The Commission states, specifically, that concerning readmission from Greece to Turkey:

“it is self-evident that the arrangements for such returns, both of those in need of international protection and those who are not, can only be carried out in line with the refugee protection safeguards that have been put in place in international and EU law.” (page 2)

The report refers to the EU Asylum Procedures Directive, which “lays down the particular legal and procedural parameters to be respected. There is therefore no question of applying a “blanket” return policy, as it would run contrary to these legal requirements.” (page 3) And the Commission points out that in accordance with this directive:

“a number of safeguards need to be respected. Having first been duly registered and identified in line with EU rules, a person that has lodged an asylum claim in Greece should be given a personal interview when the responsible authority considers that the individual falls into one of these categories of inadmissibility. This allows a screening to occur to identify whether there are particular circumstances that arise. There is also a right to appeal against the inadmissibility decision.”

The report notes that this requires changes in Greece and in Turkey. What is required in Turkey in particular are “access to effective asylum procedures for all persons in need of international protection … and ensuring that protection equivalent to the Geneva Convention is afforded to non-Syrians, notably those returned.”

There is a gap, however, between the specification of WHAT should be achieved and the vagueness concerning HOW these commitments are supposed to be realised. The section on “Practical Aspects” is less than a page long. Two statements in this section stand out:

“The capacity of the Greek Asylum Service should be increased to enable expedited readmission to Turkey as well as rapid acceptance of asylum applications. Appeal Committees should also be able to rule on a high number of appeals within a short period of time.”

And:

“The European Asylum Support Office EASO should also be called upon to support the Greek authorities in quickly and effectively processing applications and returns, if necessary through an additional and targeted call for assistance from the Member states.”

This is a striking statement, suggesting that two days before agreeing with Turkey on a strategy which relies completely on legally sound and efficient asylum procedures in Greece the European Commission barely acknowledges that the capacities of the Greek system are extremely limited. The Commission notes that perhaps – “if necessary” – readmission and fast asylum procedures might require an “additional” call for assistance to member states.

A similar disregard for the logistical challenges of managing asylum claims in Greece and readmission from Greece can be found in a power point presentation on “Managing the Refugee Crisis” which the European Commission made available on the day of the European Council on 17 March. This presentation has 30 pages. Only one refers to readmission between Greece and Turkey, and all it says is this:

 

Readmission – a Central Element of the

EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan

The Commission proposed operational arrangements to make the readmission procedure for economic migrants from Greece to Turkey more efficient 

  • The Commission, supported by Member States, should further step up engagement with third countries to ensure easier readmission of migrants which are not entitled to international protection
  • Turkey and Greece have progressed in their discussions to establish much more effective readmission operational procedures, including the deployment of Turkish liaison officers to 5 Hotspots

 

This contrasts with 6 slides on the EU internal relocation scheme (from Greece to other EU member states), which complements a very long section (almost 14 pages) on relocation in the Commission’s First Report on Relocation and Resettlement, published on 16 March. Accelerating relocation, which the Commission admits failed to deliver adequate results with only 937 out of 160,000 people relocated as of 15 March is presented as a matter of urgency. No mention is made of the fact that relocation adds to the work load of the small staff of the Greek Asylum Office, and no indication why this should now work better in Greece, when it has also failed in Italy in recent months.

Reading the Commission documents prepared for the summit on 17/18 March it seems as if relocation –invented by the European Commission and presented as its flagship project in September – continues to be treated as a priority. And that readmission is considered above all else as a task for Greece, even if it might require a bit of help by member states. This competition for scarce resources between different priorities is not even acknowledged.

EU-Turkey deal, Human Rights and Human Resources

As a result, the European Commission could not answer the obvious question raised by the EU-Turkey Agreement on 18 March: how to implement it in line both efficiently and in line with the declared commitment to respect “relevant international standards.”

How would such a policy work without a sufficient number of case workers in the Greek asylum system, without sufficient people on appeal committees, without clear and credible guidelines? This lack of preparation recalls the experience with relocation: announced as a grand scheme in September 2015 by Commission president Juncker in the European Parliament it then became a constant embarrassment after it was decided. This is particularly problematic for Greece: once again an EU policy is developed with no regard to practical implementation, which is then delegated to the Greek administration, which will be held responsible for its failure.

It is also striking that the Commission did not learn from the experience with previous calls on member states to second personnel. In September, the European Commission and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) called for 374 migration experts and 1,412 border guards, along with liaison officers from all EU member states  to both Italy and Greece.[1] As of 18 March, almost six months after the deal entered force, only 201 experts and 356 border guards were made available. Seven EU member states – Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Malta and Sweden – did not appoint their liaison officer to Greece.[2]

For Greece this has been the worst of all worlds. It was asked to implement a scheme that was not well thought through (and that for this reason also failed in Italy), which was badly prepared, and which has never received sufficient support from other member states. In the end, however, Greece was blamed for the failure.

On the day after the EU summit – on 19 March – the European Commission for the first time provided details about the human resources needed to implement the EU/-Turkey agreement:

„Around 4,000 staff from Greece, Member States, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and FRONTEX:

  • For the asylum process: 200 Greek asylum service case workers, 400 asylum experts from other Member States deployed by EASO and 400 interpreters
  • For the appeals process: 10 Appeals Committees made up of 30 members from Greece as well as 30 judges with expertise in asylum law from other Member States and 30 interpreters
  • For the return process: 25 Greek readmission officers, 250 Greek police officers as well as 50 return experts deployed by Frontex. 1,500 police officers seconded on the basis of bilateral police cooperation arrangements (costs covered by FRONTEX)
  • Security: 1,000 security staff/army”[3]

 

The Commission stated that the necessary EU support would be coordinated by Maarten Verwey, a Dutch economist and a Director-General of the Commission’s Structural Reform Support Service. Verwey is already been based in Greece in the context of the reforms needed for the disbursement of the Greek bailout. Once again the EU defines its role as providing support to Greece through secondments of officials by member states as the main tool. Once again the ultimate responsibility for success and failure depends on overstretched Greek public servants.

It is highly likely that again things will turn out as bad or worse than they did with relocation. To resolve cases quickly while upholding high legal standards requires sufficient human resources. It requires a huge effort on the part of civil servants who have seen their living standards erode for many years already. This would be a challenge even for a well-funded, well-organised and well-staffed asylum service.

The administrative challenge for Greece is huge. The political pressure is great. Many human rights organisations are certain to attack the efforts of the Greek asylum service if it fails to deal with applications in line with the standards foreseen and reaffirmed by the EU itself. At the same time Greece will be blamed if it fails to resolve cases quickly. At the same time Greece will be left alone with most of the refugees whom it is not able to return to Turkey – except for those, perhaps a few hundred (at the very best a few thousand) per month, whom it might be able to relocate. Add to this the problem, recognised by Greek officials, that the faster relocation works, the more of a magnate for refugees Greece might become. If case of failure Greece would make an easy scapegoat. This is a demotivating and inefficient way to proceed, and one that is almost certain to fail.

 

A Juncker Plan for an EU Asylum Support Mission

A better way forward would be for the Greek government to ask the European Commission to respond to an unprecedented and vitally important challenge with an extraordinary, and truly joint mission between the EU and Greek officials: to launch a first fully European Asylum Support Mission (ASM) where responsibility is shared, the effort fully funded by the EU all Greek and EU officials are paid the same, work together in mixed (multilingual) teams, under a joint double-headed leadership made up of one Greek official (the current director of the Greek Asylum Service) and a former or current head of an EU member state asylum office seconded to Greece.

These two would implement Greek legislation, report both to the Greek government and to the European Commission and manage a coherent European team of officials, whether case workers, interpreters and translators and other officials. The European co-head should also proactively push member states to second people with expertise from their administrations, paid for the duration of this work from the Mission’s budget; and if this fell short of needs, they would be able to hire people directly.

This European Union Asylum Support Mission could – if it works – also become an example for future EU asylum policy operations in all frontline states which face similar challenges. It would be a practical step towards a common European asylum space. It would put more than fine words behind the promise of due process. And the people who are granted asylum by this mission would be relocated to other EU member states.

In a recent issue of Forced Migration Review the Director of the Greek Asylum Service, Maria Stavropoulou noted that the time had come for a “major overhaul” of refugee protection in Europe. There she concludes with two suggestions:

  • Create meaningful management plans and budgets for refugee protection in the EU as a whole, rather than expecting individual member states to do so on their own: “it makes little sense to harmonise laws but not budgets …”
  • The EU’s member states must start to perceive Europe as a single asylum space and work towards these goals.

The current need to improve the capacity in Greece offers an opportunity to “work towards” the goal of a single asylum space, by creating an option for frontline states to share responsibility (and costs) fully with other member states in an emergency. To paraphrase one famous European

“Europe will not be built all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements …”

 

 

 

[1]             UNHCR, EU states miss deadline to appoint officers for refugee relocations, 18 November 2015

[2]             European Commission, Member States’ Support to Emergency Relocation Mechanism, 18 March 2016

[3]             European Commission, Factsheet on the EU-Turkey Agreement, 19 March 2016

Filed under: Greece,Refugees — Gerald @ 4:45 pm
21 March 2016

Reasons to be anxious, Monday morning after the deal was made

Since Friday many have asked ESI if we are confident about the refugee situations – now that the Merkel-Samsom Plan we have argued for so long has been adopted by the EU and Turkey. We are not confident. The opposite of a good plan is not only a bad plan, but also a good plan badly implemented.

No deal would have been the worst outcome for everyone – an EU in which solutions of the refugee issue come at the expense of one member (Greece) and where the leaders most committed so far to a humane solution (the Merkel government) are weakened is not going to find a good way forward.

But a good plan that is badly implemented is little better. And the signs from Brussels so far on implementation – since Friday’s agreement – are not encouraging.

We can be confident only once the first 50,000 Syrian refugees have left Turkey on planes to Europe; and once we see a credible administration in place in Greece to deal with asylum requests and readmission in line with the principles agreed last week.

It is clear that this administration has yet to be built. Would it have been better if efforts to do so had started earlier? Yes, but this is water under the bridge. What is a real cause for anxiety is looking into the near future: what we know so far about how this effort is supposed to be carried out in the coming weeks. It almost ensures failure.

And human rights organisations? Credible implementation of last week’s agreement in all of its aspects – due process readmission and resettlement – should be the focus of anyone who cares about a humane solution to the refugee situation. This is the time for constructive, tough debate. It is the time to say “yes, but”, not “no”, or “not this but that.” It is also a time for admitting, humbly, that policy makers and officals face incredible pressures and unprecedented challenges. The reason to be critical is not to be smug, but to help steer this in a good direction.

The next days (weeks) will be chaotic. This is inevitable; after all, a chaotic situation existed for months already. What is worrying is that bad planning of the implementation of the agreement ensures that chaos will continue for far longer than necessary.

What happens in the next months will decide how history judges the Juncker Commission. The stakes could not be higher for the EU, for refugees and for Greece.

www.esiweb.org/refugees

Interview in Spanish: http://www.lavanguardia.com/internacional/20160321/40582387072/turquia-atiende-mejor-a-los-refugiados-que-grecia-las-llegadas-continuan.html

This morning on Australian public radio on the implementation challenge: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/eu-and-turkey-deal-to-tackle-refugee-crisis/7262338

 

Filed under: Human rights,Refugees — Gerald @ 12:58 pm
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