Category Archives: Refugee Crisis

Balkan route influx now to a trickle: EU-turkey deal paves way for visa free travel for Turks but raises concern in Europe.

New arrivals on the Greek islands now are down to less than a hundred than from an average 10,000 a day at the peak last October. Also the latest figures from Turkey’s Coast Guard show that the EU-Turkey deal is working, with the number of migrants intercepted at sea only 1,536 in April whereas 8,100 people were intercepted in March. This has led the European Commission to declare that Turkey has broadly met the criteria for early visa liberalization and would be asking EU governments and the European Parliament to approve the decision by the end of June. This will allow visa-free travel to Europe for millions of Turks, as a reward for having reduced a flood of refugees and migrants into Europe to a mere trickle.

On 18 March this year, following on from the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan activated on 29 November 2015 and the 7 March EU-Turkey statement, the European Union and Turkey decided to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU. EU and Turkey have agreed that all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey but in full accordance with EU and international law. The agreement stipulates that all such migrants will be protected in accordance with the relevant international standards and in respect of the principle of non-refoulement. As per the agreement, migrants arriving in the Greek islands will be duly registered and any application for asylum will be processed individually by the Greek authorities in accordance with the Asylum Procedures Directive, in cooperation with UNHCR but migrants not applying for asylum or whose application has been found unfounded or inadmissible in accordance with the said directive will be returned to Turkey. The agreement further stipulates that for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU taking into account the UN Vulnerability Criteria. A mechanism will be established, with the assistance of the Commission, EU agencies and other Member States, as well as the UNHCR, to ensure that this principle will be implemented as from the same day the returns start. Priority will be given to migrants who have not previously entered or tried to enter the EU irregularly.

As per the agreement, Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for illegal migration opening from Turkey to the EU, and will cooperate with neighbouring states as well as the EU to this effect. Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU end or at least have been substantially and sustainably reduced, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated.

On the monetary aspect, the EU will further speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated three billion euros under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey and ensure funding of further projects for persons under temporary protection identified with swift input from Turkey before the end of March. A first list of concrete projects for refugees, notably in the field of health, education, infrastructure, food and other living costs, that can be swiftly financed from the Facility, will be jointly identified within a week. Once these resources are about to be used to the full, and provided the above commitments are met, the EU will mobilise additional funding for the Facility of an additional 3 billion euro up to the end of 2018. Also the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation roadmap will be accelerated with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016. The EU and its Member States are further obligated to work with Turkey in joint endeavour to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria, in particular in certain areas near the Turkish border which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be more safe.

The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently warned that it would stop implementing the deal with the European Union on curbing the flow of refugees to Europe if the EU failed to fulfill its promises under the agreement. Now the EU hastily seems to fulfil its commitments under the deal so that Turkey does not renege from its commitments. But allowing of visa free travel to Turks have not gone down well with few European nations who are voicing their resentment quite openly. In the coming days it will be interesting to watch how the EU tackles the objections of the member states in fulfilling its commitments made to Turkey

Europe’s worst humanitarian crisis since WW II.

The recent deluge of refugees in Europe has posed serious questions on the political stability of the European Union. Effects of an ongoing bloody conflict in Syria on peaceful Europe is not surprising. Widespread protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government started in 2011 (remember Arab Spring) but later it turned into an armed conflict. Many belligerents like Islamic Front, Free Syrian Army got involved in the conflict. But gradually ISIL captured a vast portion of Syrian territory. ISIL’s rapid military gains exacerbated the already volatile situation. Now Syrians, in hundreds of thousands, have desperately started taking refuge in other countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The crisis began in 2011 with the Syrians crossing the borders to Lebanon and Turkey. The pace of migration has been increasing but in the last few months, an unprecedented number of Syrians are trying to go to Germany and other Western European countries. Desperate Syrians are crossing into European Union through South East Europe. Capsizing of ships carrying illegal migrants from Libya is very common. In fact Italian government continued Operation “Mare Nostrum” till November 2014 to tackle such accidents but it had to be discontinued for lack of funds. Now Operation “Triton” conducted by the Border Security Agency is the successor of Operation “Mare Nostrum”.

Under the Schengen agreement, the European countries have abolished border checks on international borders, though the countries with external borders are obligated to enforce border control regulations. This Schengen agreement has made Europe a unified place but in the recent times it has led to strained relations between the member states as the number of migrants entering Europe has reached colossal levels.

A large number of asylum seekers have entered EU through Hungary (by crossing Serbia Hungary border). To stop the influx, Hungary has been recently constructing a fence along its border with Serbia (a non EU state). But the influx continues in Hungary. Most asylum seekers want to use Hungary as an entry point to finally reach Germany and Scandinavia. Under the Dublin Regulations, if a person who has filed for asylum in one country, illegally crosses border to another country, he shall be returned to the former. But, in the last few months, enforcement has become increasingly difficult, as more and more asylum seekers headed for Germany. At one point of time, Germany suspended the regulations for ease of the asylum seekers. But such benevolent measure only increased the number of desperate asylum seekers to go to Germany. During the last fortnight, countries have started cracking down on asylum seekers. Austria which was providing passage from Hungary to Germany, is now reluctant to continue. Also Hungary has taken steps to control the movement of migrants towards Germany resulting in chaotic situations seen in Budapest railway station. Even Germany has established temporary border controls to limit the incoming surge. Austria too has established border controls alongside border with Hungary. Even Hungary has now criminalised unauthorised entry. But refugees have started taking a new route via Croatia to enter Hungary after Hungary decided to shut the EU’s external border with Serbia. As more member states introduce border control, though described as temporary measures, it seriously undermines the free Schengen movement.

Germany’s stand on this refugee crisis has also led to a serious political debate. An anti-immigration wave, which was dormant for a long time, has made a comeback. Christian Social Union has openly resisted the uncontrolled entry of asylum seekers in Germany. Blame game is also going on. Right wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has blamed Germany for the present crisis.

European Commission President JeanClaude Juncker, backed by Germany, France and few western states, tried but failed to implement a migration quota system which would have forced individual countries to take on a share of some of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers. Instead the members only agreed to share the asylum seekers on a voluntary basis. The move for quota system was opposed by East European countries like Hungary, Czech Republic and Baltic States. They argued that their economy cannot sustain the influx of asylum seekers. Also the asylum seekers want to go to Germany and Scandinavian countries where there are better social welfare measures.

The most affected countries by this influx are Italy, Hungary and Greece. Turkey shelters home to more than two million refugees but it also feels a lack of support from Europe in tackling the crisis. UNHCR should have done more to tackle this humanitarian crisis effectively. Even United Kingdom has been facing severe criticism for doing too little, probably prompting David Cameron to visit refugee camps in Lebanon.

Questions are also being raised regarding the composition of asylum seekers. What to do with those merely seeking a better life and not fleeing from war and persecution? Can economic migrants be allowed uninterrupted entry in Europe? Questions on asylum shopping are also being raised.

The European Commission in the extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council has significantly increased the financial support to Syria and its neighbouring countries. It also stressed on stronger joint effort to secure the external borders of the European Union. But in the ongoing crisis, as Governments are trying to take positions best suited to their countries, rights of refugees seem to be ignored. European Commission President JeanClaude Juncker has rightly remarked that giving refuge and complying with the fundamental right to asylum is very important.