The Turkey/European Union agreement: Externalising borders to end the right to asylum

Paris, March 16th, 2016

At a further summit meeting in Brussels on the 17 and 18 March, the EU and Turkey will adopt an agreement intended to resolve what is wrongly described as the ‘migrant crisis’. This is a plan above all that will allow the European Union to push refugees back beyond EU borders, and to subcontract its obligations to Turkey. Thus will members states flee their responsibilities in defiance of the right to asylum. Migreurop, a European and African network that unites some 50 organisations which defend the rights of migrants, and the European Association for the Defence of Human Rights (AEDH) strongly oppose this agreement and demand that the Union respects its international obligations.

People who arrive in Europe seeking asylum are the survivors of lengthy journeys which have transformed the Mediterranean into a communal grave. They have had to escape controls exercised by third countries playing the role of EU frontier guards. Until the recent exodus of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, member states had succeeded in holding back asylum requests, which were at historically low levels, and in imposing the burden of hosting refugees almost entirely onto countries nearest to conflict zones [1]. European texts regulating asylum, notably the successive ‘Dublin rules’, only work if the number of refugees arriving in the EU is small. It is true that there are specific provisions in case of a ‘massive influx’. But the ‘temporary protection’ directive was conceived in such a way that to put it into effect would be particularly complex, and in any case the directive has never been activated since its adoption in 2001. The relatively brief period in autumn 2015 when numerous people seeking asylum were able relatively freely to enter an EU member state was a pause in the usual state of affairs because the German chancellor chose deliberately not to implement EU rules in force.

With the agreement with Turkey, the EU aims to close this episode and to return to the fundamentals of keeping asylum seekers at distance. The EU is using all its juridical arsenal (‘safe third country’, ’safe origin country’, ‘readmission agreements’…) regardless of fundamental rights and of a Geneva Convention on Refugees that the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is failing adequately to defend.

Turkey alone is host to nearly three million Syrian refugees, but European leaders portray it as both to blame (since refugees should not be able to reach the Schengen zone) and as a privileged partner. And so they are prepared to avert their eyes from the authoritarian measures taken by Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he launches a civil war on part of Turkey’s population, notably the Kurds, and uses every means possible to silence opposition, whether from journalists, academics, or lawyers. At the present time Turkey is not a ‘safe country’ either for citizens or for refugees. But the EU is ready to go into any judicial contortions to ensure that Erdogan agrees to limit the numbers of people leaving Turkey for Greece, to allow NATO - a NATO transformed into an EU border surveillance agency – to patrol in Turkey’s territorial waters, and to take back exiles who have passed through Turkey and are expelled from Greece. The level of political blindness, disregard for fundamental rights, and of moral abasement of the EU negotiators with Turkey is such that they envisage bartering settlement in the EU of asylum seekers living in great precarity in Turkey, against Turkey’s accepting an equivalent number of people ‘returned’ by EU member states.

The European Union must renounce this agreement with Turkey and dismantle the barricades against refugees. Member states must stop fortifying their borders and, finally, meet their obligations as regards receiving refugees and those seeking asylum. The next meeting of the European Council on March 17th and 18th must follow the recommendations of the resolution of the European Parliament on October 9th, 2013, and organise the implementation of the ‘temporary protection’ directive. This would be a first sign of breaking with the irresponsibility of a politics of externalisation that has resulted in the wrecking of the right to asylum and the deaths of tens of thousands of people seeking protection and a better life.