On March 8, 2016, the European Union (EU) and Turkey reached an agreement aimed at resolving the migrant crisis, which has grown exponentially over the past several years.
Since the beginning of the conflict, a total of 9 million migrants, have fled war-torn areas such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In search of safety, most of these refugees have found a new home in neighboring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. More than 1 million migrants have relocated to southern Europe, primarily Greece and Italy.
During the September 2015 meeting, EU members pledged to resettle 160,000 refugees in need of immediate protection. However, as of March 15, 2016, only 937 asylum applicants were relocated from Greece and Italy to other EU Member States.
Refugees typically arrive in Europe after crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat. The journey that the migrants take is incredibly dangerous and has already claimed thousands of lives. Despite the difficulties, an average of 2,000 to 3,000 refugees continue to arrive in Greece every day.
The EU-Turkey deal is an attempt to find a mutual solution to the crisis.
According to the agreement, which came into effect on March 20, 2016, migrants arriving in Greece after March 20, 2016 would be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their application is denied. In exchange for every returned Syrian, one legally registered Syrian refugee from Turkey may be resettled in Europe, and only up to a maximum of 72,000 refugees. This so called “one-for-one” deal does not extend to illegal migrants. Further still, the agreement does not extend to the non-Syrian refugees who have fled the brutal violence in Afghanistan and Iraq. For these people, the route to Europe is now closed, and if they arrive in Europe illegally, they will be quickly expelled to Turkey.
Under the pact, the EU agreed to allocate €3 billion to Turkey to help finance readmission and resettlement of refugees arriving from Greece. These funds are also intended to help Turkey cope with almost 3 million Syrian refugees currently sheltered within its borders. In addition, by the end of June 2016, the EU has promised to grant Turkish citizens the right to visa-free travel within the EU’s Schengen zone. Turkey also asked the EU to reconsider its application to become an EU member state.
Even though the EU and Turkey are taking steps to ensure that the return of refugees and migrants is legal under international law norms, the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as well as many humanitarian organizations, are gravely concerned about the blanket application of the terms of the agreement to all individuals seeking asylum. According to the UNHCR, the terms of the agreement violate the main principles of European and international law. Specifically, refugee advocates argue that international law requires that States assess each refugee case on an individual basis. Put another way, no automatic returns are allowed.
While the details of the agreement continue to be worked out, more than 50, 000 men, women and children remain stranded at the border between Macedonia and Greece awaiting their fate to be handed down by leaders of the EU and Turkey.