51 citizens of Chios: Stop the deal!

Chios must reject the unethical EU-Turkey refugee deal!
51 citizens of Chios
 
The implementation of the unethical EU-Turkey refugee agreement, say 51 citizens of Chios, has uncontrollable consequences on the island and it must be stopped.
 
“The EU-Turkey agreement is illegal and immoral, as characterized by many international organizations that dissociated themselves from the creation of closed detention centers. The deal violates international law on refugee rights. Any attempt to implement it on our island will stigmatize our community and has already had uncontrollable consequences. Deportations of uprooted and persecuted people must be stopped. We demand an open route toward Europe for refugees.”

Mítsi Akogiunoglou
Michalis Anezíris
Dimítris Antonoglou
Despoina Armenaki
Kostas Vates
Maríka Vafia
María Vouchara
Alekos Gaïtanos
Víky Georgouli
Panagiotis Dimitrakopoulos
Stamatis Iliadakis
Alexandra Ioannídou
Sofi Kavada
Pantelís Kavyris
Giorgos Kakaris
María Kalamera
Giorgos Kalogeros
Pantelís Kalogeros
Markella Kalogrídou
Tzeni Kalipozi
Anastasios Koutsodontis
Giánnis Koutsodontis
Eiríni Koutsoulia
Mikés Krimizís
Dimítris Lavatzís
Mikelía Legatou
Giánnis Loukás
Thodorís Martakis
Periklís Mitsialis
Vasílis Balas
Vasilikí Boúra
Sevi Païda
Alexandros Panagiotákis
Fotios Papadopoulos
Vasílis Pappas
Kostas Sideratos
Polykarpos Skapinakis
Markella Spanou
Christína Spyrou
Sofía Strakari
Michalis Sfyrakis
Stella Tsakíri
Despoina Tsardaka
Dimítris Tsouchlis
Telis Tympas
Stélla Faïtaki
Ermioni Frezouli
Giorgos Chalatsis
Filía Chalatsi
Ioulía Chaliorí
Evis Chrístou
 
Translated by Dimitris Ioannou

First published in Greek, on the lockal newspaper of Chios "Αplotaria", 4.4.2016

 

The European Canard of Safe Turkey

Georgia Spyropoulou


Today marks the day when the first two hundred refugees and migrants are returned to Turkey from Greece. This article discusses in detail the reasons why this is a corrupt outcome, both morally and legally.


The EU-Turkey deal is a bad one. Naming Turkey a safe third country, and returning people fitting the refugee profile is, on the international scale of legal values, the worst that Europe has to showcase since the beginning of the refugee issue and its attempt to handle arrivals, while also very clearly surpassing every poorly aimed, deadlocked or dangerous choice made up to now. Indeed, it's the escalation of a series of political decisions such as the involvement of NATO, military operations and the shielding of borders. The fact that the text of the agreement directly undermines and circumvents international and European law, clearly indicates that we are facing a reality that threatens the future of refugees.

The legal deficits of the agreement have been highlighted and criticised by international organisations even before it was signed. Despite the fact that the agreement text in many places makes direct reference to respect for international and European law, this is not enough to guarantee that this will indeed be the case. Given the situation Turkey is in, politically and legally, it is a far cry from being characterised as a safe third country. More specifically, the legal basis for the implementation of these measures is Directive 2013/32/ΕU on common processes for granting and repealing international protection, more precisely the concepts of “safe third country” and “first asylum country”. Specifically, Article 38 of the directive defines that the implementation of the concept of safe third countries is only permitted when a set of requirements are cumulatively met: there is no threat to the life or the freedom of the asylum claimant due to race, religion, nationality, social class, or political beliefs, there is no danger of serious harm, the principle of non refoulement and the ban on removal are abided by, while there is also the possibility to claim asylum and to be offered the requisite protection.

In the case of the deal, apart from the guarantees Turkey needs to provide so as to be characterised as a safe third country, Greece must in turn incorporate into its national legislation a) specific rules which, in the context of returns, require the asylum claimant to demonstrate a link with the third country so as to provide a reason for returning, b) specific methodology which the authorities must follow, c) securing individual examination of asylum claims, as well as the right to make use of legal means for appeal. Presidential Decree 113/2013, as revised and currently enforced, does not include any of the above guarantees, which means that no return to Turkey can take place before the above rules are incorporated into the national legislation, and before an appropriate framework is in place. Moreover, the fact that refugees transited through a country is not enough grounds for a link, as transit is often due to random events and does not mean that a significant relation the transit country exists, so as to provide grounds for returning.

Despite the fact that it is host to the largest number of refugees, Turkey cannot be characterised as a safe third country. There is no guarantee that those returned to Turkey will be granted the level of protection they are entitled to, nor that they will not be returned to the country they fled from, that is, back to danger. This realisation is supported by, among other things, numerous complaints made to international human rights organisations regarding cases of returns of Syrian citizens by Turkish authorities back to Syria, as well as the fact that just one day following the signing of the agreement and the unofficial naming of Turkey as a safe third country, Amnesty International publicised yet another case (in Greek) of mass return of Afghan refugees back to Kabul. In addition, Turkey has a long history of human rights violations, as well as proven persecutions of minorities and dissidents. Among these violations, Turkey also has the greatest number of convictions between 1959 up to now, over 3,000 (18% of the total), well above all member states which are cosignatories to the European Convention on Human Rights. At the same time, dissident lawyers are being publicly murdered in Turkey in recent months, press freedom is being ostracised, while dissident journalists are being jailed. Entire cities are under siege, while the intensity of repression is increasing, all the while the “cold” conflict with Russia spreads like a desert beneath the shattered political map.

As regards the legal framework for those entitled to international protection, the following are in place: Syrian citizens are granted temporary protection, with a right to work, but with restricted access to education social care and integration more generally. Citizens of other countries are granted the right to international protection, based on the Law on Foreign Citizens and International Protection which has been in force since 2014, but which does not correspond to being given refugee status, since Turkey has not lifted geographical restriction to granting refugee status only to European citizens or to foreign citizens formerly ordinarily resident in Europe. Here we must stress that Turkey is not the only country which has not lifted geographical restrictions, while based on the concept of European safe third country, this country must have ratified and be enforcing the Geneva Convention without geographical restrictions.

Legal acrobatics are in fact the result of the moral disintegration demonstrated by Europe in the case of the issue of refugees. Contrary to the demands of the Geneva Convention, where illegal entry is not prosecuted when it concerns refugees seeking shelter, we instead see a refutation if not a punishment, given that, according to the agreement, priority for relocation will be given to Syrian refugees who have not attempted to enter Europe illegally. That is, relocation will take place using “rules of good conduct”. Even so, of course, the number of refugees to be relocated stands at just 72,000 over two years, when recorded Syrian refugees are over 2,700,000. The implementation of a controversial measure, that of EU entry on humanitarian grounds in the event that flows stop, is the pinnacle of hypocrisy, as saying “we will welcome you if there are only a few of you” can hardly be called international law.


The distinction between the legal and actual treatment of people, arriving after 20th March 2016 relative to those who arrived before the agreement was signed, lacks even an elementary moral and political basis. Apart from the possibility of being part of the relocation programme, new arrivals are being held under a legally dubious framework, as the requisite procedures are not being followed, which include the issue and delivery of a detention decision, which includes justification on the reasons why they are being detained, without access to legal aid, without the right to claim asylum, and under unacceptable living conditions.

The opposite view claims, among other things, that given that Turkey is host to the largest number of refugees since the beginning of the war in Syria, it is a de facto safe country2.Moreover, given that, based on European legislation, every claimant is allowed to dispute the condition of safety on an individual basis, no country can be declared 100% safe. However, these realisations are not sufficient to build a solid argument that can withstand legal criticism. Even if we were to accept these arguments, when comparing these to the requirements of Article 38 of the Directive on non-refoulement, claiming refugee status, danger of serious harm, etc, then every counterargument crumbles.

In order for there to be a reduction in flows, human life, rights and asylum as an institution are taking a back seat. Since there is as yet no recognition of safe third countries at European level, Greece is called to recognise Turkey as being a safe third country, so that the agreement can be implemented. As regards its outcome, there are two possibilities: First, Greece will implement everything that is required to ensure large scale returns to Turkey, bearing the cost that this carries, since the fundamental prerequisite of the agreement is that Greece contravenes international refugee law.

Second, implementing the agreement to the letter while at the same time respecting European and  international law – as proposed in the agreement text - will result in returns to Turkey being fewer than the forced returns being made by Hellenic Police, as the asylum claims made by new arrivals can in no way be considered unacceptable3. In other words, if Greek authorities follow international refugee law, the agreement cannot be implemented.


Georgia Spyropoulou is a legal expert working with Amnesty International (her views do not necessarily reflect those of Amnesty International).

Τranslated by Despina Biri

First published on k-lab, 30.3.2016

Refugees without asylum, states without reason, societies without illusions


 Some thoughts on the deal of shame between EU-Turkey

 
Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos
 
 
It only took four months for Wolfgang Schäuble's “sincere” statement regarding the refugees –namely that “They are not desired in Europe”– to become a guideline for the whole of the European Union, at the helm of which, and let us bear this in mind, are neither Marine Le Pen nor Nigel Farage, as yet. It took just four months to dismiss the supposed “war against the peoples' smugglers” doctrine and explicitly acknowledge through the EU-Turkey Agreement, that the aim of the EU is to “put an end to the refugee flows.” And just like that, along with the pretexts, the commitment of the member states to the Geneva Convention and to the New York Protocol,  came to an end: a commitment to a framework of international protection which obliged the Western World to remember what happened in the past to those populations that were regarded as redundant, so that history does not repeat itself.

By no means is the existing framework of international protection an anthem an ideal solution  to the open borders. On the contrary, it excludes the “irregular” immigrants, and by this exclusion, it forces them to confront the consequences of decoupling immigration policy from labour policy, from as far back as the beginning of 2000, leaving  immigrants exposed to the “parallel legality” of mass arrests, refoulements and refugee camps. However, even if it excluded, even if it restricted someone with familiar obstacles when applying for and receiving asylum, this framework covered at least the refugees. Today this protection, and all the historical burden of the World War II behind it, have been canceled. This cancellation was celebrated by the Greek government as a “step forward” and a “diplomatic success”; the same cancellation that the Head of the British department of Amnesty International has hailed as a “dark day for the Geneva Convention, Europe and the mankind,” while UNICEF added that from now on minor refugees and immigrants will be returned to Turkey, where they will face an uncertain future.
 
No reason: the Pre-announced End to the International Protection

The cancellation of the Geneva Convention is a historical change, a change to a continuity. What I mean to say is that it is not the current “objective” of the refugee “crisis” that annuls the protection of refugees in practice, but the effort of the European states to shake off its “burden” over the years. This effort goes back more than a decade, when the present flows, as well as the economic crisis with which they intersect, could not be possibly have been predicted. 

In March 2003, Tony Blair presented the European partners with a plan for  “improving the management of the refugee flows,” based on two axes: improvement of the protection that refugees receive in countries neighbouring to their country of origin (in any case away from prospering Europe...) and setting up asylum request centres outside the European Union. The project would be financed by the European Commission from July 2003 and its pilot implementation was planned to take place secretly in Croatia, which back then was not a member of the “European family.”

On the same wavelength, out of the 4 billion euros that the EU allocated during the period 2007-2013 to the immigration and refugee policy, about half of it (1,82 billion) was directed to border controls, whereas just 17% went to the support of the asylum procedures. In September 2014, at a time when the bloodshed in Syria had already uprooted millions of people, the British NGO Oxfam maintained that “the rich countries have committed themselves to offer safe haven to 37.432 people, which is 1% out of the 3 million refugees in the neighbouring countries”. In October 2014, when Italy terminated the Mare Nostrum operation, thanks to which more than 150.000 people had been rescued at sea within a year, the Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano stated that the aim of the government was to “entrust the examination of the asylum seekers to outposts of the EU in Africa, where they would assess who is entitled asylum status and who is not.” The Spanish Prime Minister shared the same objective, that is to “externalise” the responsibility for the refugees, seeking ways of rejecting the asylum requests, if possible, before they enter the country by crossing the Moroccan borders.

Last summer indications showed that something was about to change, with a provision that 160.000 refugees from Greece and Italy would be relocated to other EU countries. Out of 160.000 refugees, however, only 937 people were included in this programme.
 
The End of the Illusion: the Greek Government played a Key Role to putting an End to the Geneva Convention

Let us go back to the EU-Turkey Agreement. A key to the suspension of the right to receive asylum, Liberation points out, is the recognition of Turkey as a safe third country. This is the legal framework, the European Commission has come up with since Wednesday: if someone applies for asylum in Greece, their file will be examined at a certain hot-spot and if it turns out that they came in Greece through Turkey, a safe third country, their request will be rejected. According to euro2day.gr, this was a request on the part of the Greek Prime Minister: “we call EASO and the European Commission,” it is stated in the relevant document, “to contribute by submitting reports that confirm that Turkey, as a first country of asylum and as a third country, is safe,” as if the government is clueless of the issues of security in our neighbouring country. As if anyone would be persuaded by the very same chorus we listen to repeatedly after every failure, as we have done already in this case: “if only you knew how much worse things would have been otherwise...”
 
The Refugee Crisis is Neither Exceptional nor Temporary
All those who scarcely followed the developments of the refugee issue should know that the refugee “crisis,” which was supposed to be solved by the Agreement, is nothing more than the predictable impasse of a European policy focused on managing/ preventing the “unwanted” strangers – an impasse against the equally foreseeable consequences of the lingering bloodshed in the Middle East.

As far as Greece is concerned, the duration and the dimension of the “crisis” could have been predicted from at least mid-2014: the humanitarian crisis in the islands of the North Eastern Aegean Sea and the urgent needs for accommodation and medical treatment, which were brought to light by the hunger strike of the Syrian people in December 2014, had signified the issue. Nevertheless, the EU as well as the Greek governments dealt with it as if it was a temporary phenomenon.

In view of the worsening crisis, which is any case difficult to handle by means of a ruined state apparatus, the present government took some initiative contrary to the misanthropic policy of New Democracy such as prohibiting the refoulements and by abolishing the detention centres. In its second term of office, however, at best it took responsibilities by receiving refugees aiming (in vain) at a certain debt relief, exploiting instrumentally and shortsightedly the humanitarian offer of millions of people all over the country. In the worst case, by denouncing the people who showed their solidarity as “ignorant,” “idealists” or even instigators of illegal actions, the Greek government adjusted to other versions of the European anti-refugee policy: it accepted the militarisation (fences, Frontex, NATO), vehemently argued for the position that “Turkey should receive all the refugees,” and finally opened up the refugee camps, foreshadowing mass refoulements of the “irregular” immigrants. To cut a long story short, not only did it not open the borders, as it was provocatively accused by the right-wing parties, but has already counted more than 300 drowned refugees in the Greek seas.

At the same time, it took no action in order to activate the European Directive 2001/55/EC, for which Syiriza pressed so hard when it was member of the opposition. The Greek Government refused to involve the army to aid with accommodation and feeding efforts, before it finally delegated the whole management of the refugee issue to it. It never occurred to the Greek government to plan ahead for refugee settlements, although the sealing of the Western Balkans’ Route was foreshadowed in several formal documents as far back as October 2015, alluding to the confinement of tens of thousands refugees in the country. Having started from the right position, that the refugee issue is not a national one, but rather a European issue, the government did not think that it should come up with a national plan, apart from fulfilling last minute needs, which were to be covered by the NGOs, as Y. Mouzalas admitted in an interview he gave to SKAI TV. In an effort to balance its role as a guardian and a policeman, the Greek government embraced the assessment that short and long term national planning would weaken the negotiating position of the country against the EU, if it would not be regarded as a signal to the people's smugglers.  Just like that, the deliberate inability of the state apparatus was promoted whereas the negotiating “tool” of the country was exhausted at protecting the national sovereignty of the Aegean Sea, before the well-known eccentricities of the ministers fighting for Macedonia take place.
 
And now what? (Without illusions)

At the moment the number of refugees in Greece amounts to 46.000. While the Agreement with Turkey is waiting be approved by the Greek parliament, according to the Greek government, Idomeni and the islands are going to be evacuated promptly and the people will be directed to the reception centres. Up to this moment, there is no guarantee about the conditions as well as the stay of the refugees in the country.

While the Greek government is committed only by an agreement that abolishes the right to asylum in a safe country and New Democracy pushes for a fiercer implementation of it, it is urgent that this agreement is put to question. First of all, it should not be ratified by the Greek Parliament. Secondly, the spatial segregation of the refugees should be questioned by the very Greek society; the refugees should come to the cities and to the neighborhoods. The accommodation centres do not constitute a solution for a population, which due to the closed borders has no other possibility than to stay in the country. The fulfillment of the needs of the refugees by NGOs is equally precarious; this condition, which has been encouraged by the European Committee by financing humanitarian organisations instead of the government, consolidates that the state withdraws from critical functions that are addressed to the whole of the Greek society, as well as the refugees. The policy of the intentional inability, as a means of pressure towards the EU, jeopardises people's lives and should be abandoned. In view of a historical regression, the solidarity movement should not be taken for granted; for the time being, however, it is our only counterweight to horror.

Translated by Anastasia Lambropoulou

First published in Greek on k-lab, 21.3.2016.
 

 

Reviving or Overcoming Borders: A Choice for Europe

Interview of  Anna Triandafyllidou  to Antonis Galanopoulos
(re-published from  "Green European  Journal")

Over the past year, Europe, besides the economic crisis, has had to face another big challenge: the largest refugee flow since the Second World War. As a result, the concept of borders has been revived across Europe. Displacement on this scale, bringing with it serious socioeconomic consequences, cannot simply be stopped at the borders. To find solutions, the EU must act on several different levels: for better management of the reception, relocation and integration of refugees; greater cooperation with Turkey; and stepping up efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.


Recently there has been great debate about the Schengen Treaty all over Europe. What does it represent? What does it tell us about borders and about Europe? 
Schengen is very important from a symbolic perspective. The right to freely move and establish oneself in other European countries is the main positive point associated with the European Union that remains in the minds of European citizens. Of course, we should not confuse Schengen with the right to freely circulate within the EU and live or work in another Member State. But the mere fact of not having to go through passport controls is important, both practically and symbolically. In continental Europe, you can travel as if you moved inside the borders of a single country. Restarting border controls in some countries, in some cases, is not terrible, but starting generalised controls will be very bad. And I do not believe that this will solve anything.

Do you believe that we can have a truly ‘European’ system of borders or borders or are they inherently national features? How can we achieve a European border system if this Union is not really a Union at this stage?
We are clearly heading towards a European border system. As far as the international geopolitical crisis is concerned, it is clearly in the interest of all countries to have common European borders. We already have common borders in the EU: our external borders. But of course, these are guarded and managed by national forces. Again, they are important both politically and symbolically. But since these borders are not fully Europeanised, there is a political game there as to ‘whose border is it anyway’. There is currently a dangerous temptation for countries in the north and east who are furthest from the conflict regions to seek to isolate Greece geographically and use it as a buffer zone, since Turkey does not seem to fulfil this function.

During the current refugee crisis, many countries have decided to close their borders, reintroduce border controls and even construct fences. Can such measures be effective for the management of migration and refugee flows?
The fences and closing of borders are not effective practices to address such phenomena. Currently a very big reshuffle is taking place in the Middle East and North Africa and it does not depend on us, or Greece, Bulgaria, FYROM… not even Germany or the EU. It is not possible to stop such large socioeconomic changes at the borders. We try, of course, to influence and manage the flows but to say that we can stop them is simply demagogic. We cannot see ourselves and our borders isolated from the international environment. This will lead nowhere. We will spend all our money and all our energy trying to guard the borders, more people will get killed, the amounts that the smugglers are asking will increase. Several years later, we will realise that too many people have come to Europe in order to find protection, but without having the papers necessary, and that pockets of misery and terrible exploitation have been created.

Why are we seeing a return to borders nowadays?
For many politicians, it is easier to say that we will close our borders and we will protect ourselves. In addition, when you announce ‘the end of the world’, you hit the headlines of newspapers. If you say that this crisis is difficult, but we are trying and it takes efforts on behalf of everyone, you would be at page 10. We usually see that there may be a significant gap between the rhetoric that is for domestic consumption in each country, and the actual policy and practice.

If countries were exiting the EU, would that stop refugees from coming? No. That is not the case. In other words, if the EU were to isolate Greece geographically, seeking to contain the refugee flows going further north, this would not work as the asylum seekers and the smugglers would just find different routes. There is no easy solution. It is necessary to work on many parallel solutions; better management of reception, distribution and integration of refugees, cooperation with Turkey, an effort for peace in Middle East, which of course is not easy.

Right-wing populist politicians, like Viktor Orbán, insist on the idea that the closing of borders will preserve the national identity of a population. Why is this symbolic aspect of borders so important?
Borders are related to sovereignty, which is the essence of national self-determination. So it seems that if we manage to control the borders we can re-establish social order, public order, security… indeed, our high level of technological development and our affluence makes us think that we could isolate ourselves and thereby ensure our security, but this is a fallacy. It is precisely our technological progress and our affluence that make us so open and interdependent.
In my opinion, we are already moving towards a decline of the importance of borders because of regional groupings such as the EU. I think borders are very permeable today – by economy and trade, by cultural flows. They are open for those who are highly skilled or affluent. Borders are closed mostly for the poor and the less skilled, those with the ‘wrong’ passports. But overall we witness multi-polarity in international relations and growing interdependence. This is why borders are increasingly less important.
Another expression of how borders are permeable today is international terrorism. We can install as many controls as we want on our borders, but it is unlikely that this will be a good strategy to stop (prospective) terrorists.

Across Europe, approaches to integration vary as they are informed by different approaches of States towards their borders.  Could asylum and integration ever be managed at a European level?
The border issue has evolved separately from the issue of integration. The different inclusion and integration systems are mainly related to the definition of national identity and the historical experiences that every country has had in terms of both emigration and migration. We need a common asylum status that would be valid throughout the EU. But we do not need a European integration system. Integration is a local process and we have enough top-down coordination and policy exchange so far.

As Europeans, can we be satisfied with the EU’s management of the refugee crisis?
On the EU’s response, I see the glass as half-full. The European Commission’s officials (Jean-Claude Juncker, Federica Mogherini and Dimitris Avramopoulos) have shown great political will for the enforcement and promotion of European solutions. It is the EU member states that have not done their share, and have been disappointing. The EU has played its part. The member states are blocking the decisions and developments. But I repeat that this crisis is big and cannot be solved so easily.

Could you tell us more specifically what the Commission has done so far?  Why is the relation between the EU and its Member States so problematic in this area?
The Commission has put a lot of leadership in seeking the cooperation of source countries of migration and countries in the region1. It has put a lot of pressure on our fellow member states in the East to show solidarity and it has counteracted the easy demagogic pressures seeking to unload the burden and the blame to the peripheral countries. Naturally, the European Commission is not a national government in the way we understand it within a country, so it has limitations as to what it can and cannot do. The same is true for the European Parliament, which is consistently progressive and pro-European in its approach and tries to promote solidarity among Member States. It is perhaps the European Council (i.e. ultimately the Member States) that fail Europe and probably fail their citizens by repeating this claim that they could solve all problems effectively, if only they closed their borders.

There is a widespread belief that the key to the refugee crisis lies with Turkey. An initial agreement was reached recently but efforts are continuing…
It is essential to have better cooperation with Turkey. There are more than two million Syrian refugees, though, already in Turkey, 85% of whom live in cities and only 15% of whom are in accommodation centres. Until two years ago, Turkey was not even in the top 20 countries receiving refugees and now is in the top 3. What has happened in Turkey is huge. Currently, the EU is putting pressure on Turkey to act as a buffer zone in exchange for visa liberalisation. In addition, Turkey rightly also seeks more financial and operational assistance to deal with the 2.1 million Syrians that it hosts. This is a long term negotiation. I think Turks should be given visa liberalisation but should also be encouraged to manage better the migration and asylum flows through their country. Their practices only fuel the smuggling networks activities and profits.

What can we expect from the EU and its institutions such as Frontex in 2016 in order to improve the situation? What must be done?
So far, priority has been given to Frontex and border management, not asylum. Both in terms of financial resources and in terms of operational mandate. This could and should change in the current circumstances. We need a common European asylum system. There must be a fivefold increase of the power and budget of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). During 2013-2014, Frontex’s budget was 115 million euro per year and EASO’s was 15 million. It is also very important to create a European refugee status. We should give EASO such power and jurisdiction. That would allow us to strengthen the common European borders. We should focus mainly on EASO and not on Frontex. We also need an international plan for the resettlement of refugees in other countries, not only in Europe. Refugees should not only be distributed across Europe but in other countries as well, following Indochina’s example2.

What does the border crisis tell us about ourselves? Are migrants the new mirror in front of the European face, confronting it with its past, its incoherence?
I think the refugee crisis brings to the fore pre-existing tensions and dilemmas that have always been there. There is nothing qualitatively or politically new. The problem is that the crisis is of such large dimensions and that it comes after seven years of financial crisis and Eurozone crisis. So it is a difficult and delicate moment in Europe and for the EU. And then there is what we call in Greek “oi Kassandres” – that those that predict disasters are more easily heard than those who speak positively.


First published in English on "Green European Journal", vol. 12, "Border Games: Εurope's Shifting Lines", 11.3.2015.


Anna Triandafyllidou is Professor at the Global Governance Programme (GGP) of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS), European University Institute. She also teaches as Visiting Professor at the College of Europe in Bruges since 2002 and is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies.

Antonis Galanopoulos holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Political Theory and Philosophy (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki). He is blogger and contributor to various Greek digital and print media.
  • Published in EUROPE

How the E.U.-Turkey Deal Came to Be

Apostolis Fotiadis

German chancellor Angela Merkel has trumpeted the agreement to return Syrian refugees to Turkey from Greece as a "European solution." But with no real accord across the 28 member states, terms and conditions that will be difficult to put into practice and continuing arrivals to Greece, is it truly a breakthrough?

Turkey and the European Union last Friday announced a plan under which Syrian refugees and migrants arriving in Greece will be returned to Turkey. Turkey seems to have agreed to the terms and conditions, despite not all its demands having been met.

The deal also aims to address the dire conditions of Greece's asylum infrastructure. Greece is simply not equipped to cope with the current scales of arrivals, nor is it in a position to process large numbers of asylum requests and conduct mass returns.

The German chancellor Angela Merkel faces a difficult battle over the coming months to keep the deal alive, let alone to develop and implement it. But, deal or no deal, European leaders understand her intentions.

The E.U.-Turkey deal was initially spelled out last October, when it was known as "The Merkel Plan." This was during the same period in which E.U. commissioner Jean-Claude Junker brought up the idea of Greek-Turkish joint patrols on the Aegean Sea to implement the scheme. Greece rejected the idea, instead calling for a bilateral "migrant readmission plan" with Turkey.

When that version of the plan did not pan out, Merkel simply repackaged the underlying ideas. During the last few months of 2015 she put enormous pressure on Brussels and managed to bring Turkey to the negotiating table as a privileged interlocutor. At the time, Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu asked for multiple concessions in exchange for mitigating the flow of asylum seekers into the E.U.
These included visa liberalization plans for Turkish citizens, the resumption of E.U.-Turkish accession negotiations and the earmarking of 3 billion euros ($3.4bn) for refugee aid and services.

Despite establishing the E.U.-Turkey negotiations on a council level, last December’s talks led to little progress. The flow of asylum seekers remained very high over the winter and E.U. states were distracted by diplomatic tensions over an impending closure of the Western Balkan route. Turkey, meanwhile, did not express any urgency in wrapping up the deal. It was simply biding its time so it could up the ante. The
plan was reintroduced at the beginning of this year. But this time it was sold as the brainchild of Dutch Labour Party leader Diederik Samsom. The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte smoothly transformed the proposal into an E.U. Presidency plan. Since then it has often been cited as The Samsom-Merkel Plan.

Samsom’s proposal involved the imminent blanket return of all arrivals on Greek soil to be transported back to Turkey in exchange for a package trade-off: a comprehensive resettlement of more than 150,000 registered Syrian refugees from Turkish camps. He hoped for a coalition of the willing – comprising Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria – to implement the resettlement process and absorb the population.

Alas this coalition of the willing quickly vanished when, a couple of weeks later, Austria broke away, aligning itself with the Visegrad Four (an alliance of four central European states - Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) and the Western Balkan side that unilaterally closed down the Western Balkan route to incoming asylum seekers, acting outside of E.U. institutional proceedings.

The "ringfencing" of Greece and blanket returns across the Aegean Sea are not necessarily conflicting ideas for European states that want to reduce the flow of refugees to a trickle. On the contrary, they serve as a complementary double "line of defence," as imagined by the rising nationalist stars, Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, who have both called for the containment of refugees within Greece. Merkel denounced the leaders; then she focused on her own strategy.

On March 6, it was Merkel's turn to play the game outside of the bounds of E.U. institutions. She, Davutoglu and Mark Rutte held an impromptu closed-door meeting at the Turkish embassy in Brussels the night before the planned E.U.-Turkey migration summit on March 7. They practically rewrote, at will, the resolutions that would be presented the next morning. They force fed the new version to the E.U. Council, while casually describing it as "some additional ideas by Davutoglu."

And this is how the current version of the E.U.-Turkey deal came to be. The new element is that blanket returns will be based on an one-for-one model, meaning that for every person sent back from Greece to Turkey, one will fly from Turkey to the E.U. to be resettled. Returnees will be relegated to the end of the resettlement queue, in the hope that this will act as a deterrent for those contemplating similar
irregular crossings.

In the lead-up to last week's summit, various parties in Berlin and Brussels have generated inordinate pressure to push through the deal, while Merkel went public on an almost daily basis to promote a so-called "European solution" as the only decent alternative to central European unilateralism.

However, Cyprus arrived at the summit for the final round of talks having announced that it has no intention of permitting full negotiations for Turkey's E.U. membership. The draft text of the summit's resolutions does not mention any specifics on the issue, and many E.U. countries, including France, do not fully agree with the visa
liberalization part of the plan. There have only been vague references for an additional 3 billion euros of aid money, on top of the 3 billion already on the table, on conditional basis and only until 2018.

It is absurd to call such a deal "European" when it is clearly being forced upon so many E.U. partners without their direct involvement in the pre-summit discussions.

The E.U. is yet to come up with a concerted plan to resettle the proposed number of 18,000 people, with a possible addition of 54,000 to this number. So far, participation appears to be on a voluntary basis and is not based on proportional sharing of the burden across its 28 member states.

Observers and advocacy organizations working on the refugee crisis – among them major figures like the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights Nils Muiznieks, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have attacked the legality of the proposed blanket returns. They have unanimously contested that the deal is a gross violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and various EU treaties and laws. Spain and Sweden have also expressed similar concerns.

The first day the plan was activated, more than 800 people crossed the Aegean, successfully reaching Greek shores. Given that the mechanisms for examining their refugee status and possibly returning them is not yet in place, they – like tens of thousands of others – will be restricted to the islands, until the process practically kicks off.

Without enough preparation time and mounting pressure to implement the deal, the situation on the European side might worsen. Legal, administrative and logistical challenges are inevitable with any new plan. But, failure to implement the one-in-one-out deal could quickly devolve into flagrant legal violations of the protections that should be afforded to all asylum seekers, including those being returned to Turkey. Before E.U. leaders rejoice at sealing the E.U.-Turkey deal, they might want to understand if they have walked into a trap.

Apostolis Fotiadis is a freelance journalist. He has reported on politics since 2005 with an emphasis on European immigration policy and ethnic conflicts in the Balkans. In early 2015, he published his book “Border Merchants” (ed. Potamos) which focused on how the European Union and especially European technocrats and the Commission interpret official immigration policy as a security concern with rapid militarisation of external borders.

First published in English on www.refugeesdeeply.org, 21.3.2016

 

No more refugees, just “irregulars”...

The deal of shame between E.U.-Turkey

 Stratis Bournazos

Below are some comments in immediate reaction to the agreement as announced on the afternoon of 18th March. We at AnalyzeGreece! consider this agreement to be of particular importance and gravity, which is why we sought to formulate an immediate reaction to it.

1. The agreement reiterates and fully confirms the main points from the statement made by EU leaders on 7th March (except for the added extensive references to international treaties and individual asylum claiming processes – obviously to calm the backlash the absence of these created), a statement strongly criticised by all humanitarian organisations, which claimed that it undermines international law. As regards today's agreement, I will refer to the first, immediate response by Amnesty International: “horrendous deal had been sealed shame on EU”, according to Iverna McGowan (head of Amnesty International al’s EU office), “a cyanide pill” to refugee rights”, according to John Dalhuisen (Amnesty’s Director for Europe and Central Asia”, while the press release is entitled “A historic blow to human rights”. Moreover, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), calls it “the deal of shame”: “European leaders have decided to barter migrants’ and asylum seekers’ dignity and rights for selfish short-term political gain. Such cynicism is despicable”.

2. The main aim, axis and core of the agreement is the stopping of flows from Turkey to Greece and Europe, not the tackling of the refugee crisis, much less the provision of international protection to those who have a right to it, and the protection of refugees. As such, the word “refugee” is only very rarely used in the text; instead, reference is made to migrants and “irregular migrants”. If, however, according to UNHCR data (as cited in a comment by Marilena Katsimi of Facebook), of those crossing the Greek border 91% are refugees (45% Syrian, 28% Afghan, 18% Iraqi - of whom 36% are children and 21% are women), this clearly means the stemming of refugee flows. In other words, the de facto abolition of international treaties, above all the Geneva Conventions, which require the provision of international protection to those in need: if all those wishing to come to Europe (the vast majority of which are refugees), are to be stopped, then they have no access to international protection.

3. For the reasons above, the three “filters for the reduction in flows”, to which Alexis Tsipras referred during the press conference, are all too eloquent. First, the war against traffickers, second, the presence of NATO ships, third, those who manage to pass through these two filters and who reach Greece will in essence be excluded from relocation (as they will be placed at the bottom of the list). In the words of the Prime Minister: “The first filter –and this is an obligation taken on by Turkey– is the dismantling of the network of traffickers operating on Turkish shores. The second filter is the operation of NATO.Turkey has now committed to withdraw the objections it has been posing until now, so that NATO operations can be carried out efficiently and effectively. The third filter was decided upon today. When neither the first nor the second filter are effective, we provide refugees and migrants with a strong disincentive to make use of trafficking networks so that they may reach the Greek islands: those who do come will not have priority in the relocation process and, if they are irregular migrants, they will be swiftly returned. If they are migrants in need of international protection, their claim will be examined on an individual basis [...]. We believe that the message of today's decision, the agreement between the EU and Turkey, is the activation of these three filters, so that we may have an immediate result the reduction of flows from Turkish shores to the Greek islands”. I think the filters speak for themselves, but I will make three comments, one for each filter.

Comment #1: when no legal and safe passage is available, no safe route, everyone, including refugees, makes use of trafficking networks. Therefore, if one takes the decision to “end irregular migration”, as stated in the agreement, then, in the absence of a legal route, one also puts an end to the possibility of refugees coming to Europe (or, more correctly, one makes the journey more expensive and dangerous, as new routes and illegal networks will without doubt be created). Comment #2: NATO ships will, in other words, act as a mobile sea fence throughout the Aegean, which will prevent refugees from reaching the coast. Comment #3: “they will not have priority”. That is, they will be punished, thereby having their right to relocation forfeited.

4. “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey”, reads the text of the agreement. A key question here is: Who is considered an “irregular migrant”? What will happen to, for example Afghans and Iraqis? I don't think there is any room for optimism: based on the overall spirit of the agreement - everyone will be considered to be irregular, except, perhaps, Syrians. And I say perhaps because there is no certainty even for Syrians. The agreement states that “for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU” – wording which reveals that Syrians will be returned, too.

5. Yet how will Syrians, who are prima facie considered refugees, be returned to Turkey, especially in light of the fact that the agreement makes explicit reference to respect for international law. The key term here is “safe third country”, which is used in the text. If Turkey is declared a “safe third country”, then Syrians can be returned legally. Of course, declaring Turkey to be a “safe third country” is both arbitrary and provocative, as Turkey has closed its borders with Syria, international organisations condemn it for refugee arrests and abuse, as well as expulsions and push backs to Syria and Iraq, there is no system for claiming asylum in place (except for European citizens, and temporary protection for Syrians), and it is not safe even for its own citizens: at the moment in which the agreement is signed, authoritarianism by the Davutoglu government is in its zenith, with pogroms against Kurds, mass arrests and the persecution of academics and journalists. By the way, the added status granted to Erdogan and Davutoglu through the agreement, precisely at this moment, is scandalous.

6. The resettlement programmes, unfortunately, look like a joke. Out of a total of 2.5 million Syrians in Turkey (a number which goes up to 3 million if we take account of the Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis), only 72,000 will be resettled – an infuriatingly small number, which confirms once more that the agreement bears no relation to any attempt to solve the refugee crisis.

7. Finally, as regards the references being made in the agreement to respect for international law, the processing of individual asylum claims, etc. Very briefly, and running the risk of being un-nuanced, I will say that not all of the eggs can be put in one basket. If the main aim is to curb refugee flows, this cannot take place whilst respecting international law. I will once more cite John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International (by the way, the fact that in the last few days we keep referring to texts by NGOs and humanitarian organisations, not by left wing political parties, is telling – but that is a different story): “Promises to respect international and European law appear suspiciously like sugar-coating the cyanide pill that refugee protection in Europe has just been forced to swallow.”
           ***
We will continue our coverage of this very important issue over the next few weeks. Concluding this commentary, I would like to say that the agreement is not a diplomatic success, as Alexiis Tsipras stated, but a significant defeat and embarrassment. Starting today, we must, both in Greece and in Europe, organise our resistance to the agreement. #StopTheDeal, #Refugees Welcome!

PS. Two pieces of good news, coming from Spain, on a Saturday, no less: at  Madrid city hall, the EU flag is at half mast in protest, while in Barcelona a large rally took place against the agreement (rallies had also taken place in previous days, while the Spanish Parliament had rejected the “preliminary” agreement of 7th March).

Stratis Bournazos is a journalist and historian, member of the editorial board of AnalyzeGreece! and Enthemata Avgis.\

Translated by Despina Biri

First published  in Greek on "Enthemata" of the newspaper "Avgi", 20.3.2016.

 

EU-Turkey deal: a historic blow to rights

John Dalhuisen
 

European leaders’ collective ‘double-speak’ fails to hide the myriad of contradictions of the deal sealed between the EU and Turkey on how to handle the refugee crisis, said Amnesty International today.

“The ‘double-speak’ this deal is cloaked in fails to hide the European Union’s dogged determination to turn its back on a global refugee crisis, and wilfully ignore its international obligations,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“Promises to respect international and European law appear suspiciously like sugar-coating the cyanide pill that refugee protection in Europe has just been forced to swallow.”

"Promises to respect international and European law appear suspiciously like sugar-coating the cyanide pill that refugee protection in Europe has just been forced to swallow".

“Guarantees to scrupulously respect international law are incompatible with the touted return to Turkey of all irregular migrants arriving on the Greek islands as of Sunday. Turkey is not a safe country for refugees and migrants, and any return process predicated on its being so will be flawed, illegal and immoral, whatever phantom guarantees precede this pre-declared outcome.”

John Dalhuisen is Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.


First published in English on www.amnesty.org/en,  18.3.2016

​​EU-Turkey non-deal: snap analysis

Paul Mason

The EU Summit on 7 March failed to reach agreement with Turkey but the outline of the deal to be done on 17–18 March is clear. Here’s the bullet points from the Heads of State statement, together with my commentary. These are enumerated as “principles”.Your head of state has signed up to them:

* “To return all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands with the costs covered by the EU;”
… Not legal. If these “irregular migrants” claim asylum they are a refugee and protected from return under international law until their claim has been processed. It will be challenged in the courts immediately.

* “To resettle, for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian from Turkey to the EU Member States, within the framework of the existing commitments;”
…This presumably starts on implementation, and is not retrospective. It leaves around 30,000 refugees and migrants stranded in Greece, which is manageable. But it replaces law with arbitrary power. Who decides which refugees in Turkey get to come to Europe? Why not simply put the ones who want to leave Turkey for Europe on a bus or flight to Berlin, avoiding the peril of crossing to Lesbos, being sent back and then — presumably — joining an arbitrarily organised queue of people in Turkey?
The whole thing would be better organised through the #safepassage demanded by NGOs and will redouble calls for that.

* “To accelerate the implementation of the visa liberalization roadmap with all Member States with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016;”
…Not possible. One state can block it. Will David Cameron sign-off visa free travel for 75 million Turkish citizens to Britain 23 days before the Brexit referendum. Will Poland sign up? Will Cyprus? Dream on.
[Its been pointed out since I wrote this that the visa free agreement is with Schengen only. But the agreement says “all member states” do I think my point is valid.]

* “To speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated 3 billion euros to ensure funding of a first set of projects before the end of March and decide on additional funding for the Refugee Facility for Syrians”
…Remarkably, Erdogan has demanded exactly what he is shown demanding in the leaked Tusk-Erdogan notes, which I have doubted the veracity of. Nevertheless, €6bn would be cheap for Europe if it stemmed voluntarily the desire of people to leave camps in Turkey and come to Europe.

* “To prepare for the decision on the opening of new chapters in the accession negotiations as soon as possible, building on the October 2015 European Council conclusions”
…This is one of the most shameful commitments the EU has ever given. We should state, now, there is no possibility of Turkey joining the EU under the AK Party. In the leaked documents that’s what Erdogan says: put us out of our misery. Europe should, as I suggest in the Guardian, signal to the secular, democratic forces in Turkey that it will re-start accession talks only when there has been a stable democracy for, say, five years, with full commitments to human rights, press freedom etc honoured. We should have no truck with the Christian right who say Turkey cannot enter because it is muslim, or because it will flood Europe with cheap labour: the issue is democracy. Turkey cannot begin accession talks because it does not meet the Copenhagen criteria for membership, and is moving in the opposite direction. I think there will be outrage way beyond the Christian right in Europe over this, if it happens.

* “To work with Turkey in any joint endeavour to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be more safe”
…Is this a commitment to create a safe haven? Militarily? Via the Turkish military, which has been covertly supplying IS, and bombing the Kurds? If not, the onus on EU leaders is to say so sharpish because there is no consent in Europe for the creation of safe havens, welcome though they would be.
***
And that’s it. Nothing on human rights in the entire document; nothing about stop bombing the Kurds; nothing about stop jailing newspaper editors; no incentive to cease burning down the local offices of opposition parties.

The best that can be said is that the negotiations failed and that these are some kind of holding position to stop Erdogan pulling the trigger on another million refugees into the islands.

These bullet points, reflecting Turkey’s demands completely, will never be implemented because the EU leaders represent democracies, where international law applies and where entry into commitments — on visas, EU accession etc — is the subject of parliamentary debate. Get real.


Paul Mason is  a journalist,  writer and  Broadcaster. Author of "Postcapitalism — A Guide to Our Future", producer of "#ThisIsACoup documentary".

First published on medium.com/@paulmasonnews
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