Refugee crisis: What does the EU's deal with Turkey mean?

Agreement means all those arriving in Greece from Sunday can expect to be returned to Turkey

What’s the deal?

Turkey has agreed to take back any asylum seekers who land in Greece, starting from Sunday. In theory this means the closure of the Aegean smuggling route, via which more than 850,000 people reached Greece from Turkey last year.

What does Turkey get in return?

The European Union has promised to give Ankara €6bn (£4.7bn) to help the estimated 2.7 million Syrians now stuck on Turkish soil. It will also become easier for Turks to get European visas, and the EU will pay greater lip-service to the idea of Turkey becoming a member state. For each Syrian returned to Turkey, Europe has promised to accept another Syrian living in a Turkish camp – though if the Aegean flow stops, this mechanism is not likely to see much use.

Will this end all migration to Europe?

It will almost certainly cut numbers, but historical migration patterns consistently show that when one route closes, another one opens. Other potential routes lie between Turkey and Bulgaria, Turkey and Italy, Libya and Italy, Morocco and Spain, and Russia and Finland.

Is the deal legal?

It depends on who you ask. Rights groups say it breaks both EU law and the UN refugee convention, a hallowed text created in the aftermath of the Holocaust. The convention says signatories cannot expel asylum seekers without examining their claims individually. In response, the EU claims people will be examined individually – but since it will suddenly and simultaneously deem Turkey a safe country for refugees, most people will still be sent back en masse.

Is Turkey safe for refugees?

The EU suddenly deems it safe, but it has not previously done so – and with good reason. Turkey is not fully signed up to the UN refugee convention; has broken international law by sending back refugees to Syria; and, despite new labour legislation, does not in practice offer most Syrians genuine access to legal work. As a result, many Syrians send their children to work to make ends meet. Non-Syrian refugees have even fewer rights.

In logistical terms, can the deal work?

It will be a struggle. Greece currently lacks the capacity to process so many asylum claims. Previously it only had to move refugees towards Macedonia; now it has to address their cases directly, and potentially house them for days or weeks while logistics with Turkey are thrashed out. To do this, Greece says it needs Europe to send it 2,500 more asylum officials – a tough ask, given that the EU has failed to send it far smaller numbers in the past.

What about the refugees currently stuck in Greece?

Since the closure of the Macedonian border, more than 40,000 refugees have been trapped in squalid conditions in Greece. These will not be returned to Turkey under the terms of the deal – but in theory will be shared between the members of the EU. In practice, EU members have failed to uphold earlier articulations of this sharing process in the past, and may yet do so again, leading to a humanitarian crisis in Greece. Some of those trapped may try to move onwards through the Balkans – via Albania, perhaps, and conceivably by sea to Italy.


Patrick Kingsley Migration correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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