Thursday, April 7, 2016

EU-Turkey deal on refugees produces mixed reactions

The controversial swap deal on refugees between Turkey and the European Union has so far produced mixed reactions since its implementation.

The deal, agreed on March 18 at a summit between Turkish and European leaders, aims to stop or at least reduce irregular migrants who arrive in Europe via illegal channels, and to encourage legal settlements.

Under the deal, all migrants entering Greece after March 20 that do not make an asylum request there will be readmitted to Turkey; one Syrian refugee on the Greek islands will be returned to Turkey and, in exchange, a Syrian asylum seeker in Turkey will find a new home in Europe.

A German government spokesman said Wednesday the deal is off to a good start.

"We have not achieved everything yet but the first few days have shown that developments are heading in the right direction," Steffen Seibert told a regular news briefing.

Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday also defended the agreement in the Spanish parliament, saying it respected international laws on asylum.

Rajoy said that "refugees will not have to risk their lives to come to Europe," adding that a legal path to Europe was guaranteed and allowed the refugees to avoid being victims of human trafficking.

However, this "one-for-one" deal seems to be disconnected from reality in Greece, where skepticism remains about whether it will effectively reduce illegal arrivals on Greek shores.

  • On the Greek island of Lesvos, the main gateway to Europe for migrants, new arrivals are still being recorded on a daily basis. On Monday and Tuesday 187 migrants arrived on the island.
  • In the camp of Moria, a village on Lesvos, nearly 3,000 migrants rushed to submit asylum bids to delay their transfer back to Turkey, after the deportation of migrants to Turkey began on Monday.
  • Meanwhile, thousands of asylum-seekers across Greece were continuing sit-in protests against the EU-Turkey deal and deportations.

Humanitarian groups have suspended activities on several Greek islands to protest the deal, arguing that it turns reception centers for refugees into inhumane, de facto detention facilities.

"We are not proud of the agreement between EU and Turkey despite the fact that the authorities assure us that people who are deported will have their rights to seek asylum in Turkey," Boris Cheshirkov, spokesperson for the UN refugee agency UNHCR at Lesvos, said Tuesday.

"The (Moria) center is overcrowded. There are people sleeping in the open. There should be extra care provided to the most vulnerable groups, single parents, pregnant women, people who suffer from post-traumatic stress," Cheshirkov added.

For Turkey, in exchange for absorbing the migrants, it will receive 6 billion euros (about 6.6 billion U.S. dollars) from the EU to help manage the influx of people; its citizens will be allowed to travel visa-free throughout most of Europe; and its admission to the EU will continue to be considered.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was visiting Finland on Wednesday, denied allegations that the Turkish authorities had returned Syrian refugees to their home country and demanded evidence for such a claim.

Last Friday, human rights organization Amnesty International said that the Turkish authorities had forced many Syrian refugees to return to their war-ravaged home country.

The organization blamed Ankara for blatantly violating both its own laws and international agreements, saying that the illegal returns "expose the fatal flaws" in the EU-Turkey refugee deal.

In his meeting with Davutoglu, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila said the measures are extremely important, adding that EU funds for the Syrian refugees in Turkey must be made available in a swift manner.


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