There has been a lot of speculation about the (allegedly) surprising, for some even shocking, proposal Turkey made on 6 March in Brussels at a meeting in the evening at the Turkish embassy between Ahmet Davutoglu, Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte, on the eve of the European leaders discussing refugees with Turkey on 7 March. EU Observer wrote:
“The bombshell came during lunch when a new plan, to the surprise of many EU leaders, was put forward by Davutoglu. Only a handful had previous knowledge of the plan, and only a few moments before. It appeared that the plan – the quid pro quo mentioned above – has been discussed by Davutoglu, Merkel and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte on Sunday evening at the Turkish EU mission in Brussels.
A source close to Merkel now says that she discovered the plan at the meeting and only discussed it with Davutoglu and Rutte to make it workable. But for most of the participants who discovered it on Monday, she was the brain behind the Turkish paper. “Stop saying it’s a Turkish plan, they haven’t written it,” an angry official from a small member state told a group of journalists.”
In fact, the official quoted here (and many others, including European leaders such as French President Francois Hollande) was wrong.
Turkish officials had discussed ideas similar to those Davutoglu presented to Merkel and Rutte – which were public since September 2015 – for a long time; ESI reports developing these proposals had been translated into Turkish many months before; and ESI analysts have presented these ideas in Istanbul and Ankara numerous times. In early 2016 we made another concerted effort to promote these ideas in Turkey. At the end of February we sent a series of letters to Turkish officials and ambassadors, followed by more meetings, arguing that it was in Turkey’s interest to adopt the Merkel-Samsom Plan. Letters like this one:
29 February 2016
Dear … ,
Please find a short paper with ideas, following up on the things we discussed. I hope it is useful.
Those in the EU who say Merkel has to give up on her idea to work with Turkey are growing stronger. Merkel remains strong in Germany. If there is a real breakthrough in the next days and weeks she could retake the initiative in Europe – but only if joined by Greece and Turkey. This would benefit refugees, a liberal EU, and Turkey all at the same time.
One additional issue we discussed was the paragraph in the paper “Key elements of a resettlement/humanitarian admission scheme with Turkey” that was not agreed upon yet. It would be much better to have a direct link to readmission from Greece, like this:
“The Member States participate in voluntary resettlement on the assumption that Turkey fully implements the existing readmission agreement, agrees to be considered a safe third cojntry by Greece, and that it will cooperate with Greece and the EU efficiently and speedily.”
These are not subjective criteria; they would depend on Turkey – assuming that Greece is helped now to handle readmission.
It would be great to talk soon. Lets hope the next week brings a breakthrough. The key for this lies in Berlin and Ankara.
Best wishes from Istanbul,
Together with such letters we sent policy makers the following short paper with concrete suggestions:
Suggestions for the Coalition of the Willing and Turkey
European Stability Initiative – 29 February 2016
There is a dramatic loss of trust around Europe in current policies on the refugee crisis. However, all the alternatives to close cooperation with Turkey –reducing the refugee flow in the Balkans as decided at the recent Balkans summit in Vienna or pursued already for a long time by the Visegrad group led by Hungary – will not work. Failure only benefits the illiberal, pro-Putin, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim coalition across Europe.
There is a need for a strategy that:
– turns a chaotic and disorderly process into an orderly one,
– supports Turkey immediately through humanitarian resettlements
– supports Greece for it to be able to readmit people to Turkey,
– gets a commitment from Turkey to accept readmitted people speedily from Greece,
– observes international, European and national legislation on refugees.
What has to take shape in March
– A process of orderly resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkey, beginning in March, of 900 a day, every day (27,000 a month, 108,000 in four months, 324,000 a year). This will continue for the foreseeable future – like the Berlin airlift, which had no end date.
It is crucial that this process begins in March. The fewer intermediaries are involved, the better. Each nation that participates should examine its own legal provisions, see how they can be adapted to this emergency, and how soon they will be able to take people. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
Reach agreement with Turkey that 900 a day for a year is the target but also the minimum goal; if there are further huge waves of refugees in the future from Syria it may be extended. It is a floor, not a ceiling.
– Readmission to begin, ending the movement along the Western Balkan route in the Aegean. Turkey to commit to take back (in principle) everyone who reaches Greece after the day on which the first group of 900 is resettled from Turkey.
Change the incentives for refugees. Readmission from Greece to Turkey and relocation from Turkey will make the crossing of the Aegean pointless and redundant. The better and faster it works, the less people Greece and Turkey would need to deal with four months from now.
What is needed:
– Greece prepares where to hold and process any claims of those to be returned to Turkey.
Setting ambitious/realistic goals, in a permanent working group supported by the coalition of the willing and with Turkey present. Can Greece manage to return all North Africans immediately in March? Can it do the same for all Pakistanis? And some from other groups for maximum impact?
– Strong and simple communication: “Greece considers Turkey a safe third country. Turkey accepts that it is a safe third country for Greece. Your asylum applications will be declared inadmissible. Do not risk your lives, or the lives of your children.”
Very important: images of significant numbers being returned from Greece to Turkey; and of people returning from Turkey to their home countries.
– Turkey does not want to readmit Syrians.
Agree instead that until the summer Greece will not send back Syrians. Then, by the summer, once Ankara (and Syrian refugees) see that the resettlement to the EU is serious and substantial Turkey will start taking back also Syrians. Turkey will want to first see that the EU does help with Syrian refugees directly and in a substantial way. This will coincide with visa free travel in place for Turkish citizens.
– Greece does not have the capacity to hold people and to process the asylum claims of those who decide to make one in Greece instead of being returned right away. This has to be build up.
– Turkey and Greece need to review the protocols and practices of their existing readmission agreement (for instance: it seems that the “accelerated procedure” of 7 days for Turkey to deal with Greek claims is only applicable to the land border; the normal procedure is 75 days. It should be 5 days for every case; etc.).
– Turkey and the EU need to develop a strategy to provide incentives to as many as possible of those who are returned to go on and return voluntarily to their home countries – vouchers for North Africans and Pakistanis to fly back right after they return to Turkey, etc …
– For those who decide to then apply for protection in Turkey and become asylum seekers there: Turkey needs to be ready to deal with this. And should get immediate support to build reception facilities.
Some issues to address
TURKEY: committing to larger and faster readmission from Greece is not easy politically. The history of negotiations over the Turkey-EU readmission agreement testify to this. And yet it is crucial: no resettlement is sustainable without such control in the Aegean.
There is, however, more that the EU can do to help Turkey – and convince the Turkish public:
– The European Commission begins right away the process of lifting the Schengen visa requirement for Turkey, launching the process to amend regulation 539/2001. This legal process always lasts a few months.
But the EU should hold out a concrete promise to Turkish citizens with concrete dates:
“If Turkey implements the existing readmission agreements with Greece in full and agrees to take back all new arrivals from 15 January 2016 and implements all requirements from the visa roadmap concerning the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey until 30 April, Turkish citizens will be able to travel without a visa to the EU as of June 2016.”
If this is backed by the Commission and Germany and others, this would be a powerful signal.
This should be targeted at the two key requirements Turkey must meet:
fully implement the readmission agreement with Greece,
be a safe third country and fully implement its 2013 law on foreigners.
There is no good reason at all to either link visa liberalisation to the EU-Turkey readmission agreement (rather than to effective readmission from Greece) or to delay it until October. The EU needs Turkish support now. And Turkey should get visa free travel as soon as possible.
– The EU offers to delink visa liberalisation and the EU-Turkey readmission agreement provision for third country nationals (which was supposed to enter into force only in 2017, and was then brought forward to June 2016).
The EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement is the worst of both worlds: Under this agreement in theory everybody who reached the EU from Turkey in the past five years could be returned. (Article 2 – Scope) There is no provision that says only people who arrive in the EU after a certain date qualify. At the same time the agreement does not work, beyond what already exists in the Turkey-Greece Readmission Agreement, since none of these people reached the EU directly from Turkey (they left Greece and re-entered the EU from Serbia).1
GREECE: For Greece to send larger numbers of refugees for readmission to Turkey is a major administrative challenge. In addition, most people in Greece do not believe Turkey will take people; many (including people close to Tsipras) doubt that the EU will resettle serious numbers from Turkey. I heard this many times in Athens recently.
Due to the above, for Greece the following is important:
– Greece sees resettlement from Turkey taking place.
– The EU will help Turkey concretely to improve conditions for asylum seekers and Syrians offered protection in Turkey (as part of the 3 billion package, or through direct bilateral aid).
– Germany, the Netherlands and others will strongly oppose any talk of Greece being suspended from Schengen.
– The European Commission and major EU members will not support any efforts to build a wall across the Balkans north of Greece to keep refugees from moving on.
– The strategic (and achievable) goal of German-Dutch policy is to have no Balkans route at all. But until the readmission-relocation scheme starts to work in the Aegean, the route should remain open.
On the key practical issue of preparing for and implementing readmission Greece will receive strong support from Frontex and EU member states.
The case to suspend relocation
Putting an end to the current relocation scheme from Greece (and Italy) would make all the above steps easier to reach. It would send a strong signal that Germany and the EU have learned from the experience of recent months. What is now proposed is different (and as opposed to previous relocation, it will work).
An early suspension of this would achieve other positive effects:
– The limited Greek administrative capacities are better focused on preparing for readmission – the same is true for technical help to Greece.
– This would make it easier to enlarge the Coalition of the Willing. Every country should be invited to take voluntarily at least the same number of Syrian refugees from Turkey as they would have taken from Greece.
So was the breakthrough on 6 March also a surprise for us? Yes, it was.
Since September 2015 ESI had argued – in presentations and meetings – that Turkey should offer to take back everyone who reaches Greece and that in in return the EU should resettle substantial numbers of refugees directly from Turkey. However, by early March we had concluded that Turkey was not in fact prepared to take back Syrians before summer 2016 and before there was serious resettlement and visa liberalisation was within reach. It was a surprise for us, therefore, to learn that on 6 March Turkey was ready to embrace the whole Merkel-Samsom Plan immediately … a bold move by the Turkish prime minister.
What was not a surprise at all was the fact that in return Turkey would demand that visa liberalisation be realised before summer 2016 … we had been arguing for this for months already in every one of our meetings in Ankara and Istanbul.
Rays of sunlight on the morning of the European Council
A Friday that starts with a sunrise like this, above the the roofs of Paris, has to go well. And it did.
First, an ESI newsletter went out early in the morning, to be done just as these rays of sun lit up the sky. There was then a lot of positive response during the day, including from important institutions and media.
Next I learned that the internal debate in the EU and in Brussels is shifting away from focusing on relocation towards focusing on resettlement (as we had argued for weeks, sometimes feeling like Don Quijote taking on windmills.) One small step in this (right) direction that is being discussed would be to allow countries to chose whether to accept refugees from Greece or from Turkey directly. The logical next step would be to suspend the focus on relocation altogether. And to do instead what everyone claims is the priority: focus on the EU’s external border in the Aegean.
Third, Greece reminded the rest of Europe today that it is still in the EU, can veto decisions and assert its interests, and that closing Balkan borders to trap people in Greece would trigger a strong and justified reaction. While relocation is not a solution for Greece but a trap desguised as “help”, attempts to close the Balkan route and turn Greece into a huge refugee camp would be an openly unfriendly act. It would undermine hope of working with Greece in the Eurocrisis, and paralyze EU decision making. No serious leader in the EU can want this. One wonders: what were the Hungarians, Slovenes and Austrians thinking … that Greece would just sit and watch as they build a fence?
Fourth, as the idea of “closing” the Balkan route is being looked at more seriously, it is becoming clear to anyone that it is a red herring. Macedonia will not allow itself to be turned into the glacis of Central Europe. It will not do Slovenia the favour and build the wall that Slovenia – the open door to the Schengen zone – does not want to build itself for good reason.
Finally, the leading Turkish expert on refugee issues – now a scholar at Brookings in DC – Kemal Kirisci has published a new paper on the crisis for the EPC. Kemal strongly backs the Samsom plan and the ESI proposals, as the best way forward for Turkey, as well as for the EU. This is very encouraging news, as we head to Istanbul and Ankara for presentations next week. Reading his paper is a great way to end this day:
If only Greece, Turkey and Germany come together around a credible strategy, this might actually work – and now there are another few days until the Brussels meeting between the EU and Turkey in March to achieve this.
Herr Knaus, Sie haben mit Ihrer Denkfabrik „Europäische Stabilitäts-Initiative“ schon wenige Wochen nach der deutschen Grenzöffnung einen detaillierten Plan vorgelegt, wie die Flüchtlingskrise entschärft werden könnte. Inzwischen gelten Ihre Ideen als Vorlage für Angela Merkels jetzigen Versuch, den Flüchtlingszustrom auf der Balkanroute aufzuhalten. Viele sprechen bereits von der letzten Chance der Kanzlerin. Sind Sie der Drehbuchautor für Merkels Flüchtlingspolitik?
Gerald Knaus: Ich hoffe es. Wir haben unseren Plan in den vergangenen Monaten vielen Regierungen in ganz Europa präsentiert und uns kritischen Fragen gestellt. Seitdem sind wir mehr denn je von unserem Plan überzeugt. Mitte September haben wir das erste Mal geschrieben, dass in der Flüchtlingskrise nur ein Ausweg gefunden werden kann, wenn es eine Lösung zwischen Deutschland, der Türkei und Griechenland gibt. Denn nicht nur in Deutschland hat die Bevölkerung hat Angst davor bekommen, dass die Politik die Kontrolle verloren hat. Unser Plan ist der beste Weg, um die unkontrollierte Zuwanderung der Flüchtlinge unter eine Kontrolle zu bringen und gleichzeitig das Flüchtlingsrecht in Europa zu bewahren. Denn all jene Populisten, die von Victor Orban angeführt werden, würden das Asylrecht am liebsten abschaffen.
Was ist der Kern Ihrer Idee?
Knaus: Für Griechenland und für Europa gibt es faktisch keine Möglichkeit, Flüchtlingsboote auf dem offenen Meer zu stoppen. Die Idee, dass die Griechen ihre Marine einsetzen und die Grenze in der Ägäis dichtmachen könnten, ist absurd und nicht umsetzbar. Die einzige Möglichkeit, die lebensgefährliche Flucht über das Mittelmeer zu unterbinden, liegt in einer Zusammenarbeit von Griechenland und der Türkei. Die wird es aber nur geben, wenn eine Gruppe europäischer Staaten, angeführt von Deutschland, der Türkei ein seriöses Angebot macht, die Verantwortung für diese gewaltige Zahl von Flüchtlingen im Land auf geordnete Art und Weise zu teilen. Die Lösung besteht deshalb darin, der Türkei mit der Übernahme von Flüchtlingen in großzügigen Kontingenten zu helfen.
Sie haben bereits im September dafür den Begriff der „Koalition der Willigen“ erfunden und haben das Scheitern der damals von Merkel geplanten gesamteuropäischen Lösung vorhergesagt. Jetzt fordert auch die Kanzlerin Kontingent-Lösungen und spricht von einer Koalition der Willigen, wie in Ihrem Plan. Wie sehen Sie die Chancen, dass er umgesetzt wird?
Knaus: In den vergangenen Wochen sind sehr viele Dinge in dies Richtung passiert. Die niederländische EU-Präsidentschaft macht sich sehr stark für die Grundelemente unseres Plans. In Brüssel wird erkannt, dass man auf die Türkei mehr zugehen muss. Am Donnerstag wollen die Länder der Koalition der Willigen mit dem türkischen Ministerpräsidenten verhandeln, wie man die Umsiedlung von syrischen Flüchtlingen aus der Türkei beginnen kann. Griechenland hat beschlossen, die Türkei zu sicheren Drittstaat zu erklären, damit man Flüchtlinge wieder dorthin zurückschicken kann. Schritt für Schritt werden alle Punkte, die wir vorgeschlagen langsam umgesetzt. Das stimmt mich optimistisch, dass wir vielleicht in den nächsten Wochen einen Wendepunkt in der Flüchtlingskrise sehen.
Glauben Sie wirklich, dass sich dadurch die Menschen von einer Flucht nach Europa über abhalten lassen?
Knaus: Ja. Wenn Griechenland Insel für Insel beginnt, die ankommenden Flüchtlinge in die Türkei zurückzuschicken, dann werden die Menschen nicht mehr ihr Leben riskieren, weil die gefährliche Flucht über das Meer sinnlos wird. So rettet man Menschenleben und zerstört das Schmugglerwesen. Und man erhält zugleich geordnete Prozesse: Die Deutschen wären in der Lage, von jedem Flüchtling der aus der Türkei übernommen werden soll, die Fingerabdrücke zu überprüfen. Man wüsste, dass sind keine IS-Terroristen und könnte ganze Familien aufnehmen, damit sich auch die Frage des Familiennachzugs nicht mehr stellt. Das alles wird gerade zwischen Deutschland und der Türkei verhandelt. Die Umsetzung könnte in wenigen Wochen beginnen.
Wird es nicht dramatische Bilder geben, wie sie einst in Ungarn die Krise mitausgelöst haben, wenn Griechenland die Flüchtlinge in die Türkei zurückschaffen will?
Knaus: Zunächst einmal muss die Übernahme von Flüchtlingen aus der Türkei durch die Koalition der Willigen der allererste Schritt sein. Es ist nicht nur als Signal an die Türkei wichtig, dass es Deutschland und die anderen Länder tatsächlich ernst meinen. Das ist natürlich ein Signal an die syrischen Flüchtlinge, dass sie weiter die Chance auf Asyl haben. In Griechenland kann man leicht unterbinden, dass Flüchtlinge von Inseln wie Lesbos mit der Fähre auf das Festland übersetzen. Wenn man das klug organisiert, und nicht dilettantisch wie in Budapest, kann man vielleicht unschöne Bilder vermeiden. Aber letztlich ist die Rückführung unvermeidlich, wenn man die Grenze schützen will.
Warum soll die Türkei ausgerechnet die Flüchtlinge behalten wollen, die Europa nicht will?
Knaus: Viele kommen in die Türkei, weil sie die Bilder sehen, dass derzeit die einmalige Chance besteht mit relativ geringem Risiko nach Deutschland oder Schweden zu kommen. Das führt dazu, dass sich immer mehr Nordafrikaner und Menschen aus Zentralasien auf den Weg machen. Dieser Strom ist schlecht für die Türkei, weil dort die Kriminalität in Form von Menschenschmuggel wächst. Deshalb muss das Signal um die Welt gehen, dass die für jeden offene Autobahn nach Europa über die Ägäis geschlossen ist.
Wie verlässlich ist die Türkei? Das Land hat den Flüchtlingsstrom bislang an seinen Grenzen nicht aufgehalten…
Knaus: Die Vorstellung, die türkische Küstenwache oder die Armee könnte die gesamte hunderte Kilometer lange Ägäis-Küste abriegeln, war von Anfang an absurd. Da gibt es unzählige Inseln und Tourismusgebiete, da kann nicht das Militär aufmarschieren. Und wenn man Flüchtlinge erwischt und ein paar hundert Kilometer landeinwärts aussetzt, sind sie eine Woche später wieder an der Küste. Wer nur einen Tag vor Ort in der Türkei verbracht hat, kann bestätigen, dass die türkische Küstenwache hier eine Sisyphosarbeit verrichtet. Der Türkei ist es mit enormen Aufwand gelungen, die Landgrenze zu Griechenland zu schützen. An der Küste uns auf dem Meer geht das nicht.
Die osteuropäischen Länder wollen die Grenze von Mazedonien schließen, in der Hoffnung, dass die Flüchtlinge dann aufgeben, nach Griechenland zu fliehen.
Knaus: Es ist eine Illusion zu glauben, man könnte einen neuen eisernen Vorhang bauen mit Mazedonien als Vorposten in einer Reihe von Zäunen. Für jeden, der den Balkan kennt, ist das eine absurde Idee. Ich habe zehn Jahre auf dem Balkan gelebt und gearbeitet. Nirgendwo gibt es so viel Expertise im Schmuggeln. Glaubt jemand ernsthaft, ein paar unterbezahlte Polizisten könnten die Berge des Balkans kontrollieren? Ganz abgesehen davon, dass Europa Griechenland völlig im Stich lassen würde.
Viele fordern mehr Druck auf Griechenland, dass bisher seine Verpflichtungen kaum erfüllt …
Knaus: Der Plan der Umsiedlung von Flüchtlingen aus sogenannten „Hots-Spots“ in Griechenland, an dem die EU-Kommission seit Monaten festhält, funktioniert nicht und ist nur kontraproduktiv. Er animiert nur die Flüchtlinge ihr Geld Schleppern zu geben für eine lebensgefährliche Flucht über die Ägäis. Es ist besser diese Flüchtlinge aus der Türkei zu holen, wo sie ja in diesem Moment auch sind.
Aber große Teile der Bevölkerung der Aufnahmeländer wie Deutschland sehen die Belastungsgrenzen schon erreicht…
Knaus: Ich glaube, dass die Mehrheit in Deutschland und auch in anderen Ländern eine Unterscheidung macht und bereit ist, die Menschen aufzunehmen, die vom Syrienkrieg fliehen – der größten humanitären Katastrophe unserer Zeit. Die Bevölkerung hat aber gleichzeitig Angst, dass die offenen Grenzen ohne jede Kontrolle, dazu führen, dass eben sehr viele Menschen kommen, die nicht Flüchtlinge sind.
Viele halten Ihren Plan für Angela Merkels letzte Rettung. Glauben Sie, dass der Kanzlerin die Umsetzung gegen all die europäischen Widerstände gelingt?
Knaus: Wir haben unseren Vorschlag am Anfang „Merkel-Plan“ genannt, weil es letztlich nicht so wichtig ist, was ein Thinktank schreibt. Entscheidend ist, dass es Politiker gibt, die den Mut haben, richtige und weitsichtige Entscheidungen nicht nur gut zu heißen, sondern sie auch umzusetzen. Unsere Analyse war, dass dieser Plan als Lösung nur möglich ist, wenn ihn die deutsche Bundeskanzlerin in die Hände nimmt. Es geht hier um eine Koalition der Anständigen, die Europas Grundwerte gegen die Populisten verteidigt. Nach den Ergebnissen der vergangenen Wochen würde ich, wenn ich ein europäischer Politiker wäre, nicht mehr gegen Angela Merkel wetten.
On 28 January 2016, the leader of the Dutch Labour Party Diederik Samsom outlined a proposal for how to resolve the migration crisis – first in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant and then on the nightly television programme Nieuwsuur.
The central pillars of his proposals are the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of refugees per year from Turkey to the EU, in parallel to the return of all migrants from Greece to Turkey. It draws on the legal concept that Turkey is a safe country for refugees, and that Greece can therefore legitimately return them to Turkey to process their asylum requests. Samsom’s plan is similar to proposals first made by ESI in September 2015 and further developed since.
In response to Samson’s intervention, Amnesty International issued a harsh press release. It calls these ideas “morally bankrupt” and “tantamount to bartering in human lives.” It claims that they represent “blatant violations of both European and international law.” It calls on everybody not to “be fooled by the humanitarian sheen of this fundamentally flawed proposal.”
There is no question that the status quo is a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe. Thousands of refugees are boarding inflatable boats in a desperate attempt to reach Europe. Every week people die crossing the Aegean. Those who survive face a gruelling journey across South-Eastern Europe in winter conditions.
The refugee crisis is also a potential political disaster for Europe. Many in Europe have opened their arms to the refugees, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been rightly praised for her compassionate response. Yet across the EU, illiberal political forces are on the rise. They advocate doing away with refugee law and asylum altogether. The scramble for a solution is producing dangerous (and doomed) proposals, such as the erection of a new iron curtain in the Balkans north of Greece. The very future of the international asylum system is at stake. Unless mainstream European leaders find a way to combine compassion for refugees with effective control of the EU’s external borders, political support for compassion will soon evaporate.
The Samsom proposal represents a practical and humane solution. At present, the prospect of obtaining protection in Germany is encouraging refugees to take to boats and risk their lives on the Aegean. Samsom suggests replacing this humanitarian disaster with an orderly process that would enable refugees to reach Europe without risking their lives. The goal is to render the hazardous journey unnecessary. But for this to work, it needs to be accompanied by measures that close off the route through Greece.
Instead of attacking the Dutch/ESI proposal in such polemical terms, it would be far more constructive for AI to make an assessment of how this practical solution could be implemented consistently with international law. Instead, AI rejects the proposal from the outset, without analysing it or taking a closer look, based on a number of wrong assumptions and factual and legal errors:
AI claims that readmission of refugees from Greece to Turkey would represent “illegal pushbacks”, arguing that “all asylum-seekers intercepted on the sea crossing to Greece” would be returned. This is wrong; and referring to “illegal pushbacks” is a wilful misrepresentation. Refugees would be returned in an orderly fashion, in safe ferries, from Greece, after a lawful procedure. Nobody would be “pushed back” or put into danger.
It is not illegal to return refugees to Turkey. EU legislation permits the return of asylum seekers to a third country if they can receive international protection in that country. Turkey already has a temporary protection regime for Syrian refugees. It also has a new asylum law from 2013, which UNHCR welcomed as “an important advancement for international protection.” The term “illegal” is therefore highly misleading. There are still steps to be taken on the implementation of this law, but the necessary institutions are already in place. The EU needs to work quickly with Turkey to help it reach the status of a safe third country – an entirely feasible goal.
AI claims that refugees would be denied “due process or access to asylum application procedures” in Greece. This is wrong. Under EU legislation, which has been implemented in Greece, refugees can submit an asylum claim in Greece. The authorities will assess it and determine if Turkey is a safe third country “for each individual case and applicant separately.” If they arrive at the conclusion that this is the case and that the claim is therefore inadmissible, they inform the applicant accordingly and provide him with a document for the authorities of the third country (Turkey) stating that they have not examined the application on merits.
Under Greek legislation, the rejected applicant can then lodge an administrative appeal against the inadmissibility decision within 15 days and has a right to remain in Greece until she is notified of the final decision. If the appeals body upholds the first-instance decision, the applicant can appeal to a court. However, the court appeal has no suspensive effect; the applicant is still obliged to leave.
All of this is lawful. Nothing in this procedure is “breaking the law and flouting international obligations.”
AI is correct to claim that the proposal is “aimed at stopping the flows of desperate people across the Aegean Sea.” We have to replace this Darwinian system, which costs lives and enriches unscrupulous smugglers, with a safe and legal asylum scheme. Resettlement of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Turkey to the EU is such a scheme. For it to work, the illegal route via the Aegean has to be closed, and the most humane way in which this can be achieved is through readmission.
AI criticises Turkey for transporting migrants detected on the way to Greece to the other end of the country. The key point here is that Turkey is implementing this under pressure from EU countries, who are desperate to stop the flow of refugees. If the Dutch proposal were put into effect, there would no longer be any need for this practice.
For anyone concerned about human rights and respect for international law, the appalling status quo should be the starting point. For countries like Germany to welcome refugees, but only after a horrendous journey across Europe, is morally untenable. Europe has unwittingly created a Darwinian system where desperate refugees have to risk their lives in order to improve their situation. We can and must do better. We need to put in place an orderly process in place of the current humanitarian catastrophe. This should be developed by governments, think-tanks and refugee and human rights NGOs, working urgently and in cooperation.
It is also profoundly unhelpful for AI to ignore the challenge of maintaining a political consensus in favour of helping the refugees. The values of compassion for refugees and respect for international law, which AI has for decades upheld so valiantly, are under threat in Europe. The failure of European governments to manage the situation is feeding the rise of Europe’s far right and public opposition to any support for refugees. A few bold leaders, such as Merkel and Samsom, are working to regain control of the situation. AI should be lending its support to constructive proposals, and not dismissing them out of hand.
Dutch plan for EU refugee swap with Turkey is morally bankrupt
A new plan to tackle unprecedented refugee flows to Europe, mooted by the Dutch Presidency of the European Union today, is fundamentally flawed since it would hinge on illegally returning asylum seekers and refugees from Greece to Turkey, Amnesty International warned.
Plans to label Turkey a “safe third country” in order to ferry back tens of thousands of people from Greece without due process or access to asylum application procedures would blatantly violate both European and international law.
“No one should be fooled by the humanitarian sheen of this fundamentally flawed proposal. It is political expediency, plain and simple, aimed at stopping the flows of desperate people across the Aegean Sea,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International.
“Any resettlement proposal that is conditional on effectively sealing off borders and illegally pushing back tens of thousands of people while denying them access to asylum procedures is morally bankrupt. The pan-European response to the global refugee crisis has long been in disarray, so solutions are needed, and fast. But there is no excuse for breaking the law and flouting international obligations in the process.”
Under international law, vulnerable people fleeing conflict and persecution must not be denied access to protection and have a right to have their asylum claims considered.
If the plan goes ahead, as soon as this spring, EU countries would begin considering Turkey a “safe third country,” a designation which would lead to them pushing back all asylum-seekers intercepted on the sea crossing to Greece. Amnesty International warned these would amount to illegal push-backs under international law.
In return for Turkey accepting those who are pushed back, a core group of EU countries would voluntarily resettle between 150,000 and 250,000 refugees currently hosted in Turkey.
There are serious concerns about the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey. The country hosts an estimated 2.5 million Syrian refugees and 250,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries including Afghanistan and Iraq. Asylum applications for non-Syrians are rarely processed in practice.
In addition, Amnesty International has documented how, since September 2015, in parallel with EU-Turkey migration talks, the Turkish authorities have unlawfully rounded up scores – possibly hundreds – of refugees and asylum-seekers. They have been herded onto buses and transported more than 1,000 kilometers to isolated detention centers where they have been held incommunicado. Some report being shackled for days on end, beaten and forcibly transported back to the countries they had fled.
“Turkey cannot possibly be considered a safe country for refugees. It is not even a safe country for many of its own citizens. In recent months refugees have been illegally returned to Iraq and Syria, while refugees from other countries face years in limbo before their applications will ever be heard,” said Dalhuisen.
“A large-scale resettlement scheme for refugees from Turkey to the EU is a good idea, but making it conditional on the swift return of those crossing the border irregularly is tantamount to bartering in human lives.
“In recent years, blocking one route to Europe has inevitably led to refugees taking another, often more dangerous, route to seek protection. Offering safe, legal routes to Europe is the only sustainable solution for the refugee situation.”
While the full plan has yet to be made public, the Dutch social-democrat leader Diederik Samsom revealed some details in an exclusive interview today with the national newspaper De Volkskrant. The Netherlands currently holds the EU presidency and is seeking backing for the proposal from other EU member states.
 The programme can be viewed here: http://nos.nl/uitzending/12343-uitzending.html. The interview with Samsom starts at minute 9:20 and lasts until 25:00 (in Dutch). ESI’s Gerald Knaus explains the thinking behind the plan from minute 11:25 (in English).
Greek Presidential Decree No. 113: Establishment of a single procedure for granting the status of refugee or of subsidiary protection beneficiary to aliens or to stateless individuals in conformity with Council Directive 2005/85/EC “on minimum standards on procedures in Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status” (L 326/13.12.2005) and other provisions. Government Gazette of the Hellenic Republic, First Volume, Issue No: 146, 14 June 2013. Art.2, paragraph 2.
‘Ik was in Izmir en zag: we hebben geen tijd meer’
I was in Izmir and saw: we have no time anymore
The article explains how Diederik Samsom [leader of the PvdA, the Dutch Labour party], on a trip to Turkey that started on 5 December 2015, went on a patrol with the Turkish coast guard and realized that things had to be done differently. From this emerged his new plan to stop the flow of refugees. Prime Minister Rutte immediately called it “Plan Samsom”, with Samsom commenting in response: “Mark does this always very smartly.”
The article notes that it is the height of the waves at sea that determines how many people cross, “not our action plans”. He writes, summarising Samsom’s view, that “we need to move towards a system where the crossing is pointless”.
The article continues that “the district of Izmir in Turkey where refugees and smugglers meet” is a small Syria. Diederik Samsom realised that “this is totally uncontrollable. The squares, the bazaar, the restaurants and the shops, they form a single market for illegal travel to Europe elusive to police control.” The same night Samsom met motivated and frustrated police and border guards in Cesme, opposite the Greek island of Chios. The article quotes Samsom about the island: “You can almost touch it, it is so close”. There is a 20 kilometer-long coastal road. The author quotes Samsom:
“A beautiful coastline with little beaches, with the same scene on each of these beaches. Refugees come running down goat paths, carrying folded rubber boats and luggage. On the beach, [the boats] are inflated quickly, by hand or with air cartridges. Within 10 minutes they leave. The only one that can stop them is the coastguard. But it cannot be everywhere at once.”
“The night when I was there, twenty boats left. We did not manage to catch even one of them. The following day there was a picture in the newspaper of two drowned children, on one of the beaches where I had been.”
When Samsom returned to The Hague he realized that the long-term idea – that asylum claims are handled outside Europe – had to be brought forward dramatically. Samsom elaborated:
“For me it was clear: we do not have years. This should be put on track before the new refugee season, this spring. On the Turkish coast, a kind of highway to Europe has been built. With a complete infrastructure of smuggling networks and – since the Turkish authorities have banned the import of Chinese dinghies – illegal boat factories. This attracts more and more people, especially North African men. The refugee stream will double easily.”
A few days later, Samsom was sitting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
“I told him, it is an illusion to think that if we deploy the coast guard, Frontex in the middle and if we pay the Turkish police, a solution will be found. All these measures contribute, they are needed, but they are not sufficient. The height of the waves at sea determines how many people cross, not our action plans. We need to move towards a system where the crossing becomes pointless. As long as the crossing offers a chance, however small, people seem willing to even lose their children on their way.”
The article notes that the plan that Samson put to Rutte has the charm of simplicity:
“The asylum request of everybody that arrives on Chios, Lesvos, Kos or any other Greek islands is declared inadmissible because [the refugees] come from Turkey, which is a safe country for refugees. They will be returned back there by ferry. However, Turkey will accept them only if large numbers of recognized refugees can go to Europe from Turkey in a legal manner. [There must be] a legal asylum route for a couple of hundred thousand refugees per year. Of this I [Samsom] convinced Mark [Rutte]. On the same day, he called it immediately the Samson plan. Mark does this always very cleverly, in this way we commit to each other.”
More excerpts from the interview with Samsom:
How many refugees can go yearly to Europe from Turkey?
The Turkish say 500,000, as many as possible, but that’s not going to happen. Between 150,000 and 250,000 per year …
Will EU countries receive compulsory quotas?
That was the next issue and we worked on it last month. At first you think: of course everyone has to contribute. However, we did this experiment in the EU last summer with the redistribution plan for 160.000 refugees who were already in Italy and Greece. I remember that I thought at the time: good, those who were not ready to cooperate were outvoted. No single country can block the solution anymore. However, they can actually undermine it and they managed to do so. Compulsory quotas do not work.
So it will happen on a voluntary basis?
Yes. There will be a little table with all the Member States and then there will be many empty spaces after their names. There may be 18 empty spaces, and in ten spaces there will be numbers. I am in intense contact with some of these ten because there are Social Democrat in government. These are Germany, Austria and Sweden, all countries that, just like the Netherlands, have large numbers of refugees. Countries that are convinced that the current influx is unsustainable. The welfare state, which all Social Democrats promote, will collapse if we do not control the refugee flow. In the worst case scenario, only these countries will cooperate with others such as France, Spain and Portugal. If there will be 250,000 legal refugees, Netherlands will have to accept 20,000-30,000. This is considerably fewer than the 58,000 who came last year.
So, even if only a small group of Member States participate, the number of 150-250,000 refugees coming to Europe must be respected?
The leading group that participates will have to accept this number. Otherwise, Turkey will not cooperate.
Then the rest will just lean back (and do nothing).
The risk is enormous. You could also lean back, but this does not work. Germany is convinced that a leading group has to step forward, this is how the EU makes progress. Gabriel (leader of German Social Democrats and Vice PM) said to me: ‘Imagine that we take 300,000 refugees from Turkey every year and we Germans are the only crazy ones to do this – we will still be better off than with the more than one million last year.
Thus, the countries that receive the most refugees will continue to do so?
Yes, but the numbers will be lower and more controllable. Now the refugee stream is Darwinism at its best, the law of the jungle. Look at all the men coming from North Africa. If we make an agreement with Turkey on a legal route, it will be only families coming from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.”
Nonetheless: you reward the countries that disrespect European agreements.
But we will lead a European project. Because the financing will be done with EU money. The costs that the leading group will incur by receiving the refugees will have to be shared by everyone, because this will become the permanent asylum system. I do not have endless patience, even Poland will have to accept it.
You negotiate with Germany, Sweden and Austria. Why not with France, there is also a Socialist government?
France is dodging the issue. PM Valls says ‘intéressant, très intéressant’ when I call and then hopes that I will not inquire further. What I notice is that the French are hoping that this problem will pass them. However, in the meantime Calais is on fire! Paris will need to participate, however, for this some German pressure is needed.
You accept division in the EU on a crucial proposal: that does not look good.
Even if everyone participated, it would not influence the numbers much, the ‘refusers’ are mostly small Member States. It is more a principle than a necessity that ten Syrian families should soon be able to go to Latvia or Czech Republic. We could accommodate these ten families also in the Netherlands, really. What matters is that big countries such as Italy and the UK participate. Receiving refugees and the preservation of the welfare state are fundamental issues. You resolve them only if you dare to look at them from a practical point of view.”
Why will Turkey agree? Now 1.5 million leave for Europe, soon it will be only 250,000.
Turkey knows that the situation is unsustainable. It is like a business deal: If you pull someone’s skin over their ears [meaning: paying someone way too much], then that is immediately the last deal. We need each other. The 3 billion Euros that EU has promised to Turkey will otherwise disappear fast.”
Turkey is not a safe country, according to the UN you cannot send refugees back there.
The developments go fast. I see Alexander Pechtold (leader of the D66, whose party supports the ruling coalition) still stand in the debate on the asylum letter, with such a dismissive gesture: who invents this, what nonsense, this will never happen. No one could foresee back then, not even Pechtold, that Turkey would give Syrian refugees the right to work, that their children are even sooner allowed to go to school before they get asylum status. We are not far from the moment that Turkey will receive the status of a safe [third] country. Then it is possible to return refugees to Turkey under the UN convention. Will this be on time? The puzzle pieces need still to be put, however, we have them all in our hand.
Rutte said in January in the European Parliament that the refugee flow will be reduced in eight weeks. Is the Samsom plan a European policy by the end of March?
I consider the chance realistic that this spring a leading group of EU countries will have an agreement with Turkey over a legal migration route for a couple hundred thousand refugees per year in exchange for the direct readmission of everyone that enters via Greece.
What is Rutte doing this week to put forward the plan in Brussels?
The same as me, but with more executive power. Rutte… spends many hours every day working on. He is very hands-on, almost un-European, where often the meeting is the message. Rutte is well placed in order to solve this problem … When Rutte sees that the time is right he will present it in Brussels.”
And if that time never comes?
That is unacceptable. Then every country puts their own fences which will become a meter longer every passing month. Then all Member States set ceilings for the influx of refugees. The result is the worst of the worst: humanitarian dramas and a still more uncontrollable refugee stream. People will not get discouraged by fences, on the contrary: they will be more motivated to pass them with all the bad consequences. Not long ago we thought people would not be crazy enough to go with their small children in wrecked boats. But they so, even in winter. Refugees deserve a safe haven but the people who live here deserve that we protect their welfare.
If the Turkey-Greek route closes, migrants will choose another way.
The flow will not disappear. Europe is a destination for life. For this we must be proud, but it has also disadvantages. Migrants will indeed try to find another way, however, this Turkish-Greek “highway”, which by now all of North-Africa has discovered, needs to be closed. Let us start with that. I don’t understand how we can put up with an illegal migration of this magnitude.”
Wenn der türkische Premierminister Ahmet Davutoglu diese Woche nach Berlin kommt geht es um viel: die Zukunft europäischer Asylpolitik, die Glaubwürdigkeit Deutschlands in der Flüchtlingskrise, und die Frage, ob Angela Merkel einen Plan hat, der funktionieren kann. Regierungschefs in Europa beschuldigen Merkel sie habe Hunderttausende „eingeladen“ und wisse nicht weiter. Ehemalige Verfassungsrichter und Bundeskanzler beklagen Planlosigkeit. Dabei hat Merkel einen Plan: er beruht auf der Erkenntnis, dass sich Kontrolle über Europas Außengrenze nur in Zusammenarbeit mit der Türkei zurückgewinnen lässt. Dafür muss die EU der Türkei etwas bieten: die geregelte Übernahme von Flüchtlingen, Finanzhilfen, Visumfreiheit. Dafür setzt sich Merkel seit Oktober ein.
Hat sie sich geirrt? Nichts deutet darauf hin, dass sich 2016 weniger Menschen über die Ägäis auf den Weg machen werden als im letzten Jahr. Oder dass weniger Kinder ertrinken werden. Dennoch ist die deutsche Kanzlerin ihren Kritikern voraus. Wer deren Alternativen durchdenkt, erkennt, wie wenig Substanz sie haben. Manche träumen von einem Zaun nach israelischem Vorbild an der deutsch-österreichischen Grenze; oder von Australien, wo Flüchtlinge, die über das Meer kommen, auf Inseln gebracht werden. Doch der israelische Zaun wird von Soldaten mit Schussbefehl bewacht; der Bau hatte Jahren gebraucht. Und die EU hat im Gegensatz zu Australien keine Nachbarn wie Nauru, wo sie Flüchtlinge absetzten könnte. Von rechtlichen, politischen, moralischen Fragen einmal abgesehen: wie das „Schließen“ der Grenzen Deutschlands praktisch aussehen solle sagen Merkels Kritiker nicht.
Denn Merkel hat grundsätzlich recht: wenn Europa die Kontrolle über seine Grenzen wiedergewinnen will, geht das nur mit Hilfe der Türkei. Doch ihre Kritiker haben auch recht, wenn sie an der derzeitigen Strategie zweifeln. So wie man sich in Brüssel die Zusammenarbeit mit Ankara vorgestellt hat wird sie nicht gelingen. Versprechen sind zu vage. Es fehlt an Vertrauen und an klaren Signalen.
Und auch an Realismus. Selbst wenn türkische Politiker etwa regelmäßig versprechen, die Ägäis für Migration schließen zu wollen, wird ihnen das nicht gelingen und es genügt auch nicht zu versichern, dass sie „sich bemühen“. Notwendig ist eine Zusammenarbeit zwischen Griechenland und der Türkei wie es sie noch nie zuvor gab. Die Türkei müsste sich bereit erklären, jeden Flüchtling, der die griechischen Inseln erreicht, zurückzunehmen. Dafür gibt es schon das griechisch-türkische Rücknahmeabkommen; es ist kein rechtliches, sondern ein politisches Problem. Denn es fehlen noch zwei Voraussetzungen: die Türkei müsste im Einklang mit dem griechischen Recht ein sicherer Drittstaat sein, und dafür ihr Flüchtlingsgesetz, das seit 2014 in Kraft ist, umsetzen und bereits gestellte Asylanträge im Land sofort bearbeiten. Und Griechenland müsste sich logistisch vorbereiten, um jeden, der etwa nach dem 31. Januar Lesbos und andere Inseln erreicht, in die Türkei zurückschicken zu können. Das wäre sinnvoller als Hotspots für die Verteilung von Flüchtlingen aus Griechenland in andere EU Staaten, denn letzteres würde an der Zahl der Ankommenden nichts ändern. Die Planung müsste heute beginnen. Dafür bräuchte Athen Hilfe und die erklärte Bereitschaft der Türkei. Dann ginge es um zählbare Ergebnisse: wie viele Asylverfahren werden in der Türkei abgewickelt? Wie viele Leute werden von Griechenland jeden Tag zurückgenommen? Die Umsetzung türkischer Zusagen könnte man täglich überprüfen.
Warum sollte die Türkei darauf eingehen? Hier kommt Deutschland ins Spiel. Es ist unvorstellbar, dass die Türkei in den nächsten Monaten jeden Flüchtling, der Griechenland erreicht, zurücknehmen wird ohne konkrete, substantielle und sofortige Hilfe. Es fehlt in Ankara an Vertrauen in die Zusagen der EU, und dafür gibt es gute Gründe. Von den drei
Milliarden Euro Hilfe für Flüchtlinge ist nichts zu sehen. Das Versprechen auf Visaliberalisierung ist unverbindlich. Der Plan, Kontingente von Flüchtlingen aus der Türkei aufzunehmen, ist derzeit so wenig glaubwürdig wie der blamabel scheiternde Plan 160,000 Flüchtlinge innerhalb der EU zu verteilen. Bei der Kontingentlösung versteckt sich Deutschland hinter der Europäischen Kommission, und diese hinter dem Flüchtlingskommissariat der UN. Man kann eine richtige Idee auch durch schlechte Planung ad absurdum führen.
Denn auch hier gilt: Versprechen genügen nicht. Wenn Deutschland will, dass die Türkei ab dem nächsten Monat Flüchtlinge zurücknehmen soll, dann muss Deutschland bereit sein in diesem Jahr hundertausende Syrer direkt aus der Türkei aufzunehmen. Das kann gelingen, wenn deutsche Behörden dies direkt mit den Behörden in Ankara planen. Dafür bedarf es weder der Europäischen Kommission noch der UN. Merkel könnte Davutoglu anbieten, in einem ersten Schritt bis April 100,000 anerkannte syrische Flüchtlinge direkt aus den türkischen Flüchtlingslagern aufzunehmen. Diese sind bereits erfasst, man kennt ihre Nationalität, es kämen Familien, nicht nur Männer, und man könnte die Fingerabdrücke mit europäischen Datenbanken abgleichen. Dann könnte die Türkei täglich zählen, wie viele Flüchtlinge ihr abgenommen werden. Es gibt auch keinen guten Grund, warum Deutschland oder Schweden ihren Anteil an den 3 Milliarden Hilfe nicht direkt über nationale Organisationen ausgeben sollen, ohne Umweg über Brüssel. Es geht darum Schulen und Kliniken für Flüchtlinge noch in diesem Jahr zu bauen, Lehrer zu bezahlen. Wo Vertrauen fehlt, wie heute zwischen Ankara und der EU, müssen konkrete Resultate dieses erst aufbauen.
Bedeutet dies, dass sich Deutschland damit von einer notwendigen Reform des europäischen Asylwesens abwendet? Nein, im Gegenteil. Eine solche Reform kann nur gelingen, wenn die akute Krise unter Kontrolle ist. Erst dann kann Berlin fordern, dass ab jetzt in jedem Jahr bis zu 100,000 Flüchtlinge, die die EU erreichen, verteilt werden, als Preis für Schengen und Ersatz für das Dublin-regime. Dies entspräche der Anzahl von Menschen, die vor 2014 im Durchschnitt jedes Jahr die EU Außengrenzen überwunden haben. Gelingt es Merkel aber nicht in den nächsten Wochen einen Plan zu entwickeln, der Ergebnisse zeigt, dann führt dies zum weiteren Erstarken jener Kräfte in der EU, die das Asylrecht überhaupt abschaffen wollen; jener die gegen Flüchtlinge, die EU, die Türkei, für Putin und gegen Muslime agitieren.
Deutschland, Europa und die Türkei brauchen einen Merkel Plan B. Darüber müssen Merkel und Davutoglu reden. Davon muss Berlin Ankara überzeugen.
How the November refugee summit can fail – and how to get a deal that works
In recent days ESI presented versions of this paper and these arguments to European policy makers.
Presenting ESI proposal at OSCE expert panel in Warsaw
On Sunday 29 November the EU and Turkey will meet at an extraordinary summit in Brussels. The objective of this meeting is to make commitments that will stop the unregulated influx of currently more than 200,000 refugees per month into the EU from Turkey.
There are two ways in which this summit might fail. One would be the absence of any agreement. Since this would send a bad signal to the publics in EU member states, every effort will be made to avoid this.
However, there is a second way in which the summit can go wrong. It is even more dangerous. This is a scenario where the EU and Turkey agree on a deal, but merely set the stage for failure in the coming months, because the influx of refugees coming into the EU from Turkey will not be reduced. Both sides will then blame each other. Frustration will erode already abysmally low levels of trust. Precious time will be wasted and it might become harder to reach a workable deal later.
For the EU to avoid such a “disastrous success” on Sunday, member states need to understand why neither the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan (from 15 October) nor the current draft statement to be agreed on 29 November will make any significant difference to the flow of refugees. The devil really lies in the detail.
What is wrong with the current draft statement
The current draft concluding statement for the Sunday summit has eleven paragraphs. What do they contain?
There are many references to aside commitments for Turkey and the EU to “meet and talk” more – at regular annual summits; at regular political dialogue meetings; at regular high-level meetings on thematic issues; at regular Association Council meetings; at a meeting at the end of 2016 to upgrade the existing customs union. More meetings and talking might be good, or bad, or meaningless, depending on the results, but it does not change things on the ground, and certainly not in the short term.
This leaves four “substantive” paragraphs: one on visa liberalisation and readmission; one on accession talks; one on EU financial assistance for Turkey; and one on “activating” the October 2015 EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan. To see why these measures will make no real difference to the flow of refugees in the Aegean, let us take a closer look at each.
Visa and readmission
The EU and Turkey launched a formal visa liberalisation process in December 2013. The goal of this process is to remove the requirement for Turkish citizens to obtain a visa for short (up to three months) visits of the EU’s Schengen zone as tourists or for business.
According to the EU roadmap on which this process is based, Turkey has to meet 72 requirements to qualify for visa-free travel. In an October 2014 assessment the European Commission found for 27 requirements that Turkey was “far from meeting this benchmark” or that there were “no particular positive developments to address them.” (see below)
There was always a simple principle: once Turkey meets the conditions of the visa roadmap (at least as much as other countries from the Balkans did who received visa liberalisation in recent years) the Commission will propose to lift the visa requirement.
At present the EU and Turkey aim to agree on the following this Sunday:
“The European Commission will present a second progress report on the implementation by Turkey of the visa liberalization roadmap by early March 2016.”
The European Commission will “present its third progress report in autumn 2016 with a view to completing the visa liberalisation process i.e. the lifting of visa requirements for Turkish citizens in the Schengen zone by October 2016 once the requirements of the Roadmap are met.”
Note: this does not add anything to what was always the case! It was always true that the European Commission would ask member states to lift (by a qualified majority) the visa requirement once the requirements of the roadmap are met. There is no “concession” here. Nor is there any commitment by member states on how they will vote on this in October.
Which raises the question: would it not be better for the EU to see Turkey meet all criteria by March 2016? Especially if this is essential to reduce the flow of migrants across the Aegean?
In return for this non-concession, Turkey is expected to do something that looks superficially important but that will also make no difference:
The EU and Turkey “agree that the EU-Turkey readmission agreement will become fully applicable from June 2016.”
A track record of implementation of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement is one of the 72 conditions in the visa roadmap. The readmission agreement states that Turkey is to take back all third country nationals three years after the entry into force of the readmission agreement, which will be on 1 October 2017.
However, what does it really mean if Turkey agrees to make it “fully applicable” from June 2016? What will be the concrete impact on movements in the Aegean? Most people who reach the EU through the Greek islands are Syrians. Anyone who reaches the EU and applies for asylum cannot be returned to Turkey unless their asylum application is processed and rejected (i.e. they are found to be “economic migrants”, the language the draft statement uses). In 2014, only 5 percent of Syrian asylum seekers were rejected across the EU. Now the rejection rate might be even lower. The rejection cognition rates for other nationalities reaching the EU in high numbers, Afghanis and Iraqis, were also low in 2014.
This significantly reduces the number of people that could be returned. An asylum procedure is usually also a lengthy process since asylum seekers rejected at first instance can appeal and are allowed to stay until the court makes its decision. This often takes a year or more.
There is another problem. Very few migrants apply for asylum in Greece. They apply in Germany or Sweden or other EU countries further north. However, if they reach these countries through the Western Balkans, the EU-Turkey readmission agreement no longer applies. It requires that persons to whom it is applied “illegally and directly entered the territory of the Member States after having stayed on, or transited through, the territory of Turkey” (Art. 4). Those who take the Balkan route enter the EU “directly” from Serbia, not Turkey.
In fact, the EU-Turkey readmission agreement is unnecessary. What really matters is that Turkey already has a readmission agreement in force with Greece since 2002. Between 2002 and the end of last year, Greece asked for the readmission of 135,000 irregular migrants. Turkey accepted 13,100 of these, and in the end 3,800 (3 percent) were returned to Turkey. In 2015, Turkey has accepted more requests. But so far, only 8 people have actually been returned to Turkey this year – by the time Turkey is ready to admit them, they are usually no longer in Greece.
Readmission of irregular migrants from Greece to Turkey
Migrants whose readmission Greece requested
Migrants accepted by Turkey
Migrants actually readmitted
This means concretely that the full entry into force of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement in summer 2016 does not add anything to what the Greece-Turkey readmission agreement already provides for. It does not apply to those who apply for asylum and are waiting for the decision. It does not apply to those who obtain asylum. And legally it does not apply to rejected asylum seekers or irregular migrant who have reached EU territory after transiting through the Western Balkans.
As currently formulated, the commitments to visa liberalisation and readmission appear strong and raise expectations but are in fact weak and inconsequential. They set the stage for another round of mutual recriminations, acrimony and disappointment. And they will not change the dynamic of refugees crossing the Aegean.
Accession process “acceleration”
At the summit, the EU will also commit to open one chapter in the EU accession talks, in December. This sounds good, but what does it actually mean?
Note that this does not actually constitute an “acceleration” of Turkey-EU accession talks. More than one decade after the start of the accession talks, 14 out of 34 negotiating chapters have been opened. In the first five years (2005-2010), 13 chapters were opened; in the second five years (2010-2015) 1 chapter was. Now 1 more will bring the total number to 15. This is still an excruciatingly slow process.
Note also that this is the only commitment concerning enlargement that the EU is planning to make. While there is “language” (as diplomats might say) referring to five other chapters, which have been blocked by Cyprus for many years, all the EU promises here is that the Commission will do “preparatory” work “without prejudice to the position of member states”. In plain language this means that the preparatory work may lead to nothing at all if Cyprus maintains its blockage.
In fact, the problem goes deeper. What does opening a chapter in December mean for Turkish citizens? The chapter concerned is “Economic and monetary policy” (chapter 17). One of the main issues that the chapter covers is the independence of central banks.
According to the recently published 2015 Turkey Progress Report, the past year has seen “increased political pressure on the central bank [which] undermines its independence and credibility.” Will this change just because the chapter will be opened? For the Turkish government, having influence on the central bank is convenient. Maintaining it comes at no cost as long as there is no real prospect of joining the EU. But carrying out reforms is acrtually the only real way for Turkey to “reenergize” the EU accession process. Everything else is political theatre.
The EU also promises money for the refugees in Turkey:
“The EU will provide immediate and continuous humanitarian assistance in Turkey. It will also expand significantly its overall financial support.
A Refugee Facility for Turkey was established by the Commission to coordinate and streamline actions financed in order to deliver efficient and complementary support to Syrians under temporary protection and host communities in Turkey.
The EU is committed to provide an initial 3 billion euros of additional resources from the Union’s budget and contributions from Member States. The need for and nature of this funding will be reviewed in the light of the developing situation.”
Note: the money is not yet available, even though the EU is committed to mobilising it and working on it. 500 million are to come out of the EU budget and 2.5 billion from member states. If and when they will provide this sum of money is unknown. Member states have also committed to increasing funding for the EU’s Syria Trust Fund, which addresses the needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey and other countries of the region. Since September, they have pledged only 49 of 500 million.
The Refugee Facility will become operational on 1 January 2016. A Steering Committee will provide strategic guidance, coordinate with other funding mechanisms, and decide on which actions will be financed. Turkey will be represented on this committee in an advisory capacity. This is commendable. Many Syrian refugees in Turkey are in need of humanitarian assistance, and many of their children are in need of school education; only 200,000 of the 700,000 school-age children actually go to school, due to the language barrier and limited capacities of Turkish schools.
However, even if the education problem were resolved and all Syrian refugees in need received humanitarian aid, would this convince them to stay in Turkey? Many refugees are looking for a place where they can start new lives after many years of waiting – where they can work (in Turkey they are not allowed to), re-train if needed, where there is assistance if they do not find a job straight away, where their children receive good education, which offers them a long-term perspective. In this regard, Germany will remain more attractive in many ways.
The language in the current draft declaration on what Turkey promises to do in order to offer a credible perspective to Syrians in the country remains vague and general (“…Equally, they welcomed the intention of Turkey to adopt immediately measures to further improve the socio-economic situation of the Syrians under temporary protection.”). This will not keep any Syrians from moving to the EU.
Activating the joint action plan
There is one more point in the statement that promises more than it can deliver:
“Turkey and the EU have decided to activate the Joint Action Plan that had been agreed until now ad referenda on 15 October 2015, to step up their cooperation for support of Syrians under temporary protection and migration management to address the crisis created by the situation in Syria. The EU and Turkey agreed to implement the Joint Action Plan which will bring order into migratory flows and help to stem irregular migration.”
How the joint action plan will help to stem irregular migration is not really explained. The draft statements mentions three specific points, all vague. One is cooperation on “economic migrants”:
“As a consequence, both sides will, as agreed and with immediate effect, step up their active cooperation on economic migrants, preventing travel to Turkey and the EU, ensuring the application of the established bilateral readmission provisions and swiftly returning economic migrants to their countries of origin.”
The problem is obvious again: in order to determine who is an economic migrant, an asylum procedure must be completed. How many asylum applications can Greece deal with, and how long will this take? Germany with a huge administration has been able to issue 32,000 decisions on asylum in October. If Greece takes too long this will not have any “immediate effect.”
There is also the – vague – promise to improve the condition of Syrians now in Turkey:
“Equally, they welcomed the intention of Turkey to adopt immediately measures to further improve the socio-economic situation of the Syrians under temporary protection.”
Finally, there is the commitment every EU country makes in every similar statement, from Greece to Croatia to Slovenia, fighting people smugglers. It is not clear why Turkey should be more successful in this endeavour than any other states in South East Europe, in particular since everyone who travels to Greece and is stopped is able to try again until it works.
A deal that works: Merkel Plan 2.0
In recent weeks ESI analysts presented an alternative plan in many European capitals (Berlin, Brussels, Stockholm, The Hague, Vienna, Warsaw). This was an elaboration of the Merkel Plan which ESI published on 4 October:
The European Council on Sunday invites the European Commission to begin right away the process of lifting the Schengen visa requirement for Turkey. This legal process will necessarily last a few months. It should hold out a concrete promise to Turkish citizens: “If Turkey implements the existing readmission agreements with Greece and Bulgaria in full and agrees to take back all new arrivals to these two countries from 1 January 2016, and implements a concrete set of other priority conditions from the roadmap till March, then Turkish citizens will be able to travel without a visa to the EU from 1 April 2016.”
Turkey’s new asylum authority will start to issue decisions in response to asylum claims already in December. Following this Greece declares that it will consider Turkey a safe third country from 1 January 2016.
Turkey and Greece, with support from others (Frontex, the European Asylum Support Office and other EU countries) prepare logistically for Greece to send back refugees to Turkey after 1 January 2016.
Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, France and other countries in a coalition of the willing commit to take large contingents of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey. The process of identifying refugee families will begin on 1 January 2016. The first refugees will leave Turkey in parallel to the first readmissions from Greece in early 2016.
If this readmission to Turkey proceeds as planned, the Justice and Home Affairs Council and the European Parliament will vote in March in favour of lifting the visa requirement for Turkish citizens. The decision becomes effective on 1 April 2016.
The EU and Turkey immediately conduct a joint needs assessment to provide assistance to the Syrian refugees in Turkey, with a focus on ensuring education for all school-age children (currently 500,000 out of 700,000 Syrian school-age children do not go to school). They identify the number of teachers needed, where they can be found, which buildings to use for classes, which equipment and textbooks are necessary, and how much all of this will cost. EU assistance will be visible to the Turkish public. In parallel Turkey will propose a gradual opening of the labour market to Syrians who enjoy protection in Turkey.
The political scientist Gerald Knaus on working together with Turkey, border controls and Germany’s role in receiving refugees.
DIE ZEIT: Mr Knaus, while Germany finds itself confronted with one million refugees, you are calling for taking in another 500,000.
Gerald Knaus: This is not as absurd as it looks at first sight. After helpless politicians proposed many faulty solutions in the past few weeks, chancellor Merkel needs to present something credible and tangible.
ZEIT: The plan that Angela Merkel will bring to Ankara comes close to a proposal you made already weeks ago – and now it became EU foreign policy. What exactly did you propose?
Knaus: Greece declares Turkey a safe third country. Turkey commits to readmitting all refugees that reach Greek islands through the Aegean, from a point in time to be specified. In return, Germany commits to granting asylum to 500,000 Syrian refugees from Turkey in the next twelve months. In addition, the EU visa requirement for Turkish nationals will be waived next year.
ZEIT: Why should this reduce the number of refugees who want to come to Europe?
Knaus: This offer is only for refugees who are already registered in Turkey. Thus no new incentives for refugees to travel to Turkey would be created by this plan. Then refugee families – half of the Syrians in Turkey are children – would no longer need to make the dangerous trip across the sea and the Balkans. This would quickly reduce the number of boats heading towards the Greek coast. The result would be what Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer both demand: control of the external borders and an orderly process – and German emergency relief for refugees in a real crisis situation.
ZEIT: But Turkey is currently reeling from a terrorist attack of which nobody knows who was behind it. Kurds and members of the opposition are brutally persecuted. How is one supposed to declare such a country a safe third country?
Knaus: You have to differentiate between a safe third country and a safe country of origin. For refugees Turkey is a safe third country – even if it is not necessarily a country of safe origin for its own citizens. Currently, these two things are often confused. Under the new Turkish asylum law, refugees can apply for asylum, are not persecuted in Turkey, and are also not deported to Syria. And that’s decisive for this proposal. Whether the EU should declare Turkey a safe country of origin as the EU Commission suggested, raises doubts indeed.
ZEIT: But is it wise to demonstrate to an autocrat like Erdoğan in the run up to the elections how much one is dependent on him?
Knaus: Even Erdoğan needs Germany. Turkey finds itself in the biggest security crisis since the end of the Cold War. Russia is waging war north of Turkey, in Ukraine. The Russian air force is bombing Turkish allies in Syria in an alliance with Assad and Iran, both adversaries of Turkey. And Turkey itself is at war with the »Islamic State« and the PKK. The economy is no longer growing as it was in the last decade, and taking care of two million Syrian refugees is not easy. The refugee issue plays hardly any role in the electoral campaign.
ZEIT: Part of your proposal is visa free travel for Turkish nationals to the EU – what effects would this have in practice?
Knaus: I do not believe in a mass exodus of Turks. In the past few years the trend went the other way; especially from Germany more Turks immigrated to Turkey than did immigrate to Germany. For the young generation in Turkey, Europe only has a real meaning if they can actually travel there. The only danger that I see is if the situation in Southeast Turkey would descend into a full blown war like in the 90s.
ZEIT: But in the current political climate it is completely unthinkable that the chancellor would speak about a number of 500,000 she actively wants to bring to Germany.
Knaus: I know that in the first moment this sounds counterproductive. But you can make it clear to people that without an agreement more refugees are to be expected. Even now there is talk of one million. And in talk shows superficial solutions like fighting root causes, solving the situation in Syria and Libya, or sharing the burden in the EU are being floated.
ZEIT: What about the magic formula “transit zones”?
Knaus: What the German federal minister of the interior proposes would indeed reduce the number of applicants from Balkan countries who are being rejected anyway – but this is not about them. Above all, it is about civil war refugees. Often people will say that the EU needs to better secure its borders, introduce stricter border controls and better equip refugee camps in the region. But none of these proposals will solve our most acute problem: How to reduce the number of refugees reaching the external borders of the EU. No Frontex mission, no European quota, no perfectly equipped refugee camp will stop the desperate from trying to flee to Europe. But if there’s an impression in the public debate that there’s no limit at all for the number of refugees, then soon the readiness to help will turn into fear. That’s why I believe that we need to move fast. Angela Merkel and her political allies in Europe need to show that they – and not the extreme right – have a real solution to offer.
ZEIT: Why should European solidarity suddenly work now if there was already a lack of it in past months?
Knaus: If hundreds of thousands of Syrian children grow up without schooling and without perspective, if we lose an entire generation, this will not be without consequence for European security. There’s a helplessness among the political elite in the entire EU, from Greece to Sweden, nobody has an idea what to do. And extreme right parties profit from this, while having no real solutions to offer either. In this situation Germany is the only country that has the political credibility and economic clout to take the initiative. If Germany can’t deal with the problem, nobody else will manage to do so. But if Germany takes the lead, countries like Austria, Italy, France and Sweden will follow.
ZEIT: Viktor Orban accuses Angela Merkel of moral imperialism. This argument also goes down well with many Germans.
Knaus: Orban is right if he calls the hitherto existing international refugee policy hypocritical. On paper there’s a generous right to asylum. But at the same time everything has been done to prevent refugees from claiming this asylum. In recent years, UNHCR resettled only 100,000 refugees worldwide per year to wealthy countries. That’s of course a ridiculously low figure. But Orban’s response to this is to by de facto get rid of the right to asylum altogether. He regards refugees as criminals, as enemies, and refers to Hungarian experiences with the Ottomans, as if they were an invading army. He also says that the refugee crisis is a good opportunity to overcome the “liberal age of human rights.” Le Pen in France, Strache in Austria and others join in into that chorus. In the general helplessness such slogans are becoming more and more appealing.
ZEIT: The right and the left claim that 60 million people are fleeing and that we are only talking about a fraction.
Knaus: That figure is totally misleading. The biggest part of all refugees worldwide stay within their home countries. Syria is the biggest disaster. One fourth of all refugees outside of their home country are Syrians. Most of them now live in Turkey, in Jordan, and in Lebanon. Only a few years ago the number of migrants who tried to enter the EU illegally was 72,000. So this is not about a massive migration of the planet’s poor to the rich North that has been going on for a long time and will never end. This is a specific emergency situation.
ZEIT: Why should erecting borders not work?
Knaus: Angela Merkel said that she has lived behind a fence long enough and she knows that fences won’t help. At first sight that’s a strange argument: The Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall worked very well and repelled refugees for decades. But for that you need a death strip and a firing order. And even that could not deter many desperate people to try nevertheless. Merkel made it clear that she will not build this kind of fence. You could militarise your borders and regard refugees as enemies. But then you would need to give up European asylum law as we know it.
Gerald Knaus is chairman of the European Stability Initiative, a think tank advocating unconventional solutions to European crises.