Eight EU states call for more Turkish-style migrant swap deals

Eight EU states are stepping up political pressure to strengthen borders and return rejected migrants, ahead of Thursday’s (9 February) summit in Brussels.

In a joint letter sent earlier this week to the presidents of the European Commission and the Council, they also propose setting up new agreements similar to a now-defunct EU agreement with Turkey on the return of refugees.

“We suggest developing and, where appropriate, legally empowering safe third country agreements with relevant countries along the EU’s external border and beyond,” the letter noted.

The letter, which makes direct reference to the EU-Turkey statement, was signed by the leaders of Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia.

It also broadly mirrors recently leaked EU summit conclusions that speak of the need “to increase the use of the concepts of safe third countries and safe countries of origin”.

The concept of a ‘safe third country’ involves returning people to the places through which they originally transited.

Greek key

But a Greek case filed last week in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) could complicate those plans.

Two years ago, Greece said Turkey was safe enough to return nationals from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria.

Since then, the Greek authorities have rejected some 9,000 asylum applications, even though three of the five nationalities mentioned are those most often recognized as refugees in Greece. Most are left in limbo – in part because Turkey has refused to take anyone back since March 2020.

And Greece’s designation of Turkey as a safe country comes despite Turkish authorities’ forced expulsions of Afghans and Syrians, as documented by Human Rights Watch.

The UN refugee agency itself has demanded a halt to all deportations to Afghanistan, in light of Taliban repression and widespread poverty and misery.

The Greek case referred to the Luxembourg court is being led by the NGOs Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) and the Greek Council for Refugees.

“Referring Greece’s safe third country rules to the CJEU is a much-needed reminder that policies based on denying protection to refugees are neither legal nor viable for the EU,” said RSA legal officer Minos Mouzourakis. .

The two NGOs filed their case in October 2021, which ended up before the Council of State, the supreme court of Greece.

The majority of the Council of State came out in favor of the cancellation of the Greek list of safe third countries. They said Turkey had a legal obligation to allow the readmission of asylum seekers.

But because Turkey has refused to do so since 2020, EU asylum law must apply. Turkey also suspended a bilateral readmission agreement with Greece in 2018.

This EU legislation refers to Article 38(4) of the EU Asylum Procedures Directive, raising questions about the legality of Greece’s list of safe third countries.

It will now be up to European justice in Luxembourg to decipher the legal disputes. Whatever the outcome, the drive to strengthen external border controls and offshore policing has been met with a host of criticism.

Among them is the European Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović.

Mijatović, in a statement, said the EU summit (February 9-10) comes against the backdrop of years of steady decline in respect for the human rights of those trying to achieve the Europe.

“They should break the silence on well-documented abuses by member states,” she said of EU member states.

These abuses appear to have been compounded by derogations from European asylum laws after Belarus and Turkey were accused of sending thousands of people along the borders in a bid to destabilize Europe.

The derogations are part of a so-called “instrumentalization” regulation. Although the regulation was overlooked in December by EU states, the Swedish EU presidency is pushing with more restrictions.

It is accompanied by tired slogans of solidarity and their various iterations over the years. The latest, embedded in a leaked draft document on a key migration reform proposal, now describes it as “adaptable solidarity”.

The term suggests that EU states can choose from a “permanent migration support toolkit” when the number of irregular arrivals increases.


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