Friday, March 18, 2016

STATEMENT: On EU deal with Turkey on migrants

A brief statement on key developments on the European Union's proposed deal with Turkey on migrants:

The EU is offering a new deal with Turkey on migrants. The goal seems clear: to stem the numbers of migrants travelling from Turkey to Greece.

Migrants make this journey by sea, often exploited by illegal human traffickers. The journey is expensive and highly dangerous with several thousands drowning.

The new deal was to include a "one in, one out" policy. This was to work by taking all those persons migrating by sea to Greece and returning them to Turkey -- and in return the same number of persons still inside Turkey would be relocated to Greece in a one-for-one swap. The goal was to provide a deterrent to migrants considering making this dangerous journey - that surviving the journey would only see them returned to Turkey. It was also to provide an incentive for migrants to stay in camps, offering a possibility - but no guarantee - of future relocation. The deal would only apply to Syrians in Turkey.

But this has been changed. A key reason why is because the scheme was unlawful under international law. Any migrant seeking to make a claim for asylum must have that claim considered on its merits. People cannot be forcefully returned while denying a right to claim asylum. So the policy could not run as originally proposed.

The "one in, one out" policy is now more consistent with existing obligations under international law. Any migrant arriving in Greece who wants to claim asylum can. Those who do not and anyone denied asylum would be returned to Turkey. And for every person returned to Turkey, another person would be chosen from within Turkey - again only Syrian nationals - for relocation to the EU. Another one-for-one swap.

This change makes the policy lawful at the expense of undermining its original purpose. Everyone expects last year's record migration numbers to be surpassed in 2016. The statistics thus far bear this out. But this policy aiming at deterrence will do little to address the problem of numbers.

The reason is the policy is likely to see EU migration increase. If even larger record numbers of migrants come to the EU, that number will be allowed to come. Anyone with a legitimate claim for asylum can stay - as is their right. But now everyone who does not have a legitimate claim and is deported will be replaced. The migrants who come to the EU may change, but the overall numbers will be the same - at a time where they are expected to grow.

EU leaders are probably banking on the threat of returning migrants having some deterrent effect. If fewer travel over - realising their efforts are in vain if no legitimate claim for asylum - then there will be fewer to be replaced...and so the overall numbers may drop. But that's the theory. Whether or not it holds in practice is anyone's guess.

Legal issues remain. Turkey is not fully signed up to the Geneva Convention, it has not been deemed by the EU to be a "safe country" for refugees and Turkey has not yet granted asylum to Syrians. These issues all create headaches for the return policy.

But Turkey gets much out of this. The €3 billion of EU funding promised them is to be sped up and directed towards helping defray the high costs of running migrant camps. Turkish citizens look set to receive visa free travel (but not work visas) to the EU. There is also talk about speeding up discussions on Turkey's accession to the EU.

All of this could not come at a worse time for David Cameron. It is unlikely to help the "Remain" camp that EU migration is again in the headlines - with another complicated, difficult to understand deal on the table. It will also not help allay fears that visas may be waived for millions of people, large amounts of EU funding spent outside the EU and that EU membership for another new state is being talked about while the UK is weighing the pro's and con's of Britain's current deal. Adding such future uncertainties to "Remain" may undermine the force of their concerns about future uncertainties with the "Leave" camp supporting Brexit.

Finally, the biggest surprise of all to me is no talk about a EU-styled Coast Guard that would help secure Europe's coastal waters and prevent illegal human trafficking into Europe. If EU leaders are looking to find a deterrent, this would go some way to addressing this problem. But still there is too little coordination, too little effort and seemingly too little collective political will to make this happen despite its promising early steps late last year. Without a more coordinated and effected naval deterrent, the pathway into Europe will remain every bit as dangerous - and maybe every bit as used - as before.

This is in no one's interest, least of all of migrants.

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