Athens March 20, 2016

Article by Evangelos Venizelos on his personal website

The actual agreement of March 18th, 2016 on the refugee issue 

At this point, the EU - Turkey agreement and the decisions of the European Council of March 18, 2016 on the refugee and migration flow are quite important; they do not though allow for illusions.

The view expressed by Austria and the Visegrád Group has become dominant within the European balance of powers. After all, the initial German policy of welcoming Syrian and Iraqi refugees tested the country’s limits and ultimately crashed against strong reactions from a big part of German society.

Germany, and with it the whole EU, says -put very simply: “That’s it. We will not accept any more than we already have so far”. A few positions are still to be filled in an organized way under the Euro-Turkish Agreement, but the already existing large volume of Syrian refugees must remain in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which are de facto characterized as “safe countries”. As far as Turkey is concerned, this characterisation must also be legally provided. In the same spirit, refugees to Europe from other countries, such as Iraq, are barred from entering and this applies a fortiori to irregular migrants moving through Turkey. However, they can also, in accordance with international law, submit an asylum application which should be judged on the individual characteristics of the applicant. The conclusions of the European Council and the EU-Turkey Agreement of 18/03/2016 invoke the existing international and European law on the protection of refugees and should be interpreted in accordance with this, but the political and thus practical aim is clear, hence the essentially worried statement of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The schema formed by the EU on 18/03/2016, with the agreement with Turkey is practically as follows:

  1. The so-called Balkan route becomes permanently closed. Thus the northern borders of Greece are closed.
  2. Those who remain inside the Greek territory until 20/03/2016 will stay within it. Without a clear distinction between asylum seekers and irregular migrants. This practically means that circa 50.000 people are placed under organized living conditions, which essentially are  a regime of administrative detention and will formally be established as such, unless someone prefers the miserable conditions of Idomeni or other legally “non-existent” improvised camps, from which the Greek State is absent and where those interested cannot practically request asylum (or subsidiary protection and, more generally, an international protection scheme)

  3. From March 20 onwards, Greece and Turkey will operate as a watertight shield for other EU member - states. On the one hand there is the European area starting from FYROM and on the other hand the -essentially- uniform area of Greece and Turkey. Those who, coming from Turkey after March 20th, are granted asylum (international protection) in Greece, remain in it, unless the possibility of relocation to another member- state of the EU arises. However, in this case, Syrian refugees coming directly from Turkey and not by way of Greece will take priority. The rest will return to Turkey, whether they are economic migrants or Syrian refugees who are now suitable only for Turkey/Lebanon/Jordan because they tried to find refuge in EU belatedly, on their own initiative and thus became a “nuisance” to Europe and are “punished” by it with being excluded from the European prospect.

  4. For those re-entering Turkey from Greece and are Syrians, an equal number of selected Syrians (refugees obviously) are relocated to the EU, up to the limit of 72,000. Now, though, the available positions are just 18,000 and can increase only through the goodwill and availability of Member - States. Let us remember that the total number of Syrian refugees exceeds 4 million according to UN estimates.

  5. The internationally prescribed classification into "refugees" and "migrants" is transformed in the EU - Turkey agreement into a categorisation between (irregular economic) “migrants” on one hand, and “Syrians”, who obviously fit the description of “refugee”, but are no longer explicitly characterised as such in the 18/03/2016 agreement.

  6. The southern maritime borders between Greece and Turkey, as EU’s external borders, are surveilled by the NATO armada and the pre-existing, non-military European mechanisms (FRONTEX, Greek Coast Guard etc.). Those who are rescued from shipwrecks in Turkish territorial waters are led to Turkey. The issues relating to operational planning within NATO have neither, of course, concerned the conclusions of the European Council nor the EU - Turkey agreement.

  7. The Schengen Treaty is in effect, but the internal border controls that have been imposed are also still in effect.

  8. The Dublin Regulation is effectively back, with the first host country, which has an obligation to consider asylum applications, being Greece or Turkey (!) which is practically regarded, in this case, as an EU member- state and is considered a safe country for receiving and hosting refugees, with the exception being the relocation of a limited number of Syrians we discussed above (point 3). However, under international law, Greece may receive and has to consider e.g. an asylum application by a Turkish citizen of Kurdish origin who invokes security issues in Turkey. Since the EU -and along with it, Greece- now legally characterize Turkey as a safe country, a similar application has not, by definition, any chance of being accepted, unless there are judicial objections.

  9. Added to the points discussed above (1-8) are the provisions for the administrative and economic support of our country and the provisions for economic assistance to Turkey, abolishing the requirement for visas for Turkish citizens and the resumption of accession negotiations, without raising its so-called “Cyprus obligations”. This was, anyway, something unthinkable to happen in the middle of the intercommunal talks.

The actual content of the March 18 agreement highlights the following:

First of all, the enormous retreat of the European Union, value-wise and institutions-wise, on the refugee issue, without the compensation of serious political initiatives in order to solve the Syrian problem, which has now unfortunately become too big and complicated for European measures. Of course, the EU's political decisions and agreements do not prejudge the attitude of either the European Court of Human Rights or the European Court of Justice, which carry the weight of their relatively rich case law. 

Secondly, there is a chain of very serious problems that our country is called to face for an indeterminate period of time. There are problems of humanitarian and operational nature, concerning the living conditions of all these people. There are institutional problems, concerning the legal description and freedom or limitation of movement of these people- including children, pregnant women, disabled and elderly people but also some who may be connected to terrorism and organized crime- within the Greek territory. There are problems relating to the internal and external security and protection of the sovereignty, sovereign rights and international responsibilities of the country.

Meanwhile, the negotiation for the evaluation within the frames of the third memorandum has been extended, without foreboding anything positive for the real economy. The expectations towards the debt - which seems to be what remains of the anti-memorandum illusion - are limited, as I have repeatedly warned, to the confirmation and implementation of the 2012 agreement. The main thing, though, is that the rule of law is put to a rough test, as it is now very clear that the sole concern of the current rulers is the possession of power, without distinctions and boundaries.


* For the greek version:

 Evangelos Venizelos 

Tags: Articles