Greece and Turkey signed a readmission agreement for migrants who cross the Aegean to be returned, building on the basis for a potential deal between the European Union and Ankara brokered in the early hours of the day regarding the direct resettlement of refugees.
Only a few hours after they completed 16-hour negotiations in Brussels, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu met in Izmir on Tuesday as part of the latest High-Level Cooperation Council between the two sides.
The two leaders signed six agreements on Tuesday. Perhaps the most significant was a bilateral deal for the migrants who are not eligible for international protection to be readmitted to Turkey after crossing into Greece. The two countries already had such an agreement but Tuesday’s pact changes the process used so Greece can return the migrants immediately.
“[It] sends a clear message to migrants coming from third countries, rather than countries at war… that there is neither the political will [to allow their passage] nor the ability to cross to Europe,” said Davutoglu.
“This is the reality we ought to sincerely convey to them in order to stop, to reduce, this unbearable flow for our countries.”
The deal rubber-stamped in Izmir came in the wake of a Turkish proposal in Brussels to accept the return of all migrants and refugees who cross the Aegean to reach Greece in return for EU countries resettling asylum seekers directly from Turkey. Tsipras said that he found the proposal “interesting.” EU leaders are due to meet with the Turkish premier again next week to finalize the plan.
“The aim here is to discourage irregular migration and… to recognize those Syrians in our camps who the EU will accept – though we will not force anyone to go against their will – on legal routes,” Davutoglu said.
The Greek delegation appeared encouraged by developments in Brussels and Izmir. Athens is adamant that without Turkey’s cooperation there is no hope of the number of refugee arrivals in Greece decreasing significantly.
However, the plan for the EU to take one refugee from Turkey for each one that is returned from Greece was not applauded by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
“As a first reaction I’m deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
He said the plan did not offer sufficient guarantees under international law, adding that refugees should only be returned to a country if it could be proved that their asylum application would be properly processed.
Grandi called for refugees to be screened before being sent away from Greece “to identify highly at-risk categories that may not be appropriate for return.”
His concerns were shared by Human Rights Watch. “A fundamental contradiction lies at the heart of the EU-Turkey deal taking shape,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at the rights group. “The parties failed to say how individual needs for international protection would be fairly assessed during the rapid-fire mass expulsions they agreed would take place.”
“Refugees should not be used as bargaining chips,” Frelick said. “The integrity of the EU’s asylum system, indeed the integrity of European values, is at stake.”
Rights group Amnesty International said the proposal was full of “moral and legal flaws.”
“The idea of bartering refugees for refugees is not only dangerously dehumanizing, but also offers no sustainable long-term solution to the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” Amnesty’s Iverna McGowan said.