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EU policy on migration management - what have we learned from the EU-Turkey Agreement on Refugees?

In 2015, migrants from neighboring regions of the European continent reached a historic high of 1.3 million people[1]. This number led to the crisis of migrants in Europe - most refugees have concentrated on the territories or at the border of some countries (Greece, Italy, Hungary). Official Brussels began work on a crisis management plan. In 2015, the European Commission initiated the transfer of migrants to Europe by quoting[2]. A temporary European relocation scheme was created for asylum seekers who are in clear need of international protection determining actual numbers to be relocated to each Member State. The Brussel’s plan was followed by strong opposition from the countries of Central Europe. Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic refused to except migrants in their country. In Hungary, the government even held a referendum, where an absolute majority of the population refused to initiate this initiative. Germany, Sweden, France, Italy and Greece received a large proportion of migrants.

By the end of 2015, the European Union offered Turkey financial and political assistance, namely visa liberalization, and reactivation of the EU accession process, in exchange for retention of the growing flow of migrants, it was intended that Turkey detained refugees on its territory and a large number of “irregular” migrants would be returned from Greek islands to Turkey[3]. Ankara promised that it would contain refugees on a massive scale and keep them outside of Europe and take back migrants who travelled the short but dangerous distances to the Greek islands in smugglers’ boats. The deal was officially entered into force on March 18, 2016 - the European Union began implementing the Refugee Program in Turkey (The EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey[4]).

For the implementation of the program for 2016-2017, 3 billion Euros were allocated, of which one billion was accumulated from the EU budget and 2 billion from the budgets of Member States. This amount includes humanitarian assistance to migrants, the provision of educational and medical services and the development of municipal infrastructure[5].

In 2016, the European Commission presented the largest single humanitarian project in the history of the EU "humanitarian assistance plan" (HIP)[6] for the most vulnerable refugees in Turkey, followed by the 2017 plan. For the implementation of the first plan 505 million Euros were allocated, and on another - 714 million Euros.

Since September 2017, the European Union has launched a broader humanitarian aid program - Emergency Social Security Network[7] (ESSN) for which 348 million Euros were allocated.

In addition to humanitarian assistance, the European Union also provides non-humanitarian assistance to Turkey within the migrant workers' amenities program, which implies funding of state structures, including ministries. With the allocated funds will be financed the infrastructural projects of those municipalities which received the biggest refugee flows. Two grants worth 600 million have already been allocated for this program[8].

In conclusion, we can say that the initial goal was achieved. Changes to EU policies since the deal was signed have made it harder for migrants to move around Europe. The restrictions allowed to reduce the number of migrants arriving from sea in Europe to a fraction of more than 1 million people observed in the crisis year 2015, many of them from Syria. In the two years since the deal was signed, 2,164 people have been deported from Greek islands to Turkey.

Criticism of the Agreement

The drop in migrant numbers has brought relief to embattled politicians around Europe — but it came at what many argue is an ever-rising cost, both for the EU and for asylum seekers.

The tens of thousands of migrants now stranded in Greece are one legacy of a deal that has come to symbolise the EU’s emergency response to its migration disarray[9].

Critics of the EU strategy say the approach is both inhumane in its treatment of migrants and politically counterproductive.

The migrant agreement was criticized by international organizations. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that it undermines the principles of asylum law. The fundamental core of these is the concept of “non-refoulement,” or prohibiting the return of a person who is seeking asylum to the country from which he or she fled[10].

Amnesty International criticized the execution of the agreement in practice and called it a 'shame of Europe'[11]. The organization focused on the conditions for refugees on Greek islands and in certain areas of Turkey.

"The EU-Turkey deal has been a disaster for the thousands who have been left stranded in a dangerous, desperate and seemingly endless limbo on the Greek islands," said Gauri van Gulik, the organization's deputy director for Europe.

"It is disingenuous in the extreme that European leaders are touting the EU-Turkey deal as a success, while closing their eyes to the unbearably high cost to those suffering the consequences,[12]" she added.

The Migration Policy Institute has expressed frustration over the EU and has accused it of betraying its principles - while Brussels urges its neighbors to have a high standard of shelter legislation, first of all EU should not violate it[13]. The European Union actually violates its own law when it refuses to an “illegal migrant” without the right to appeal.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Oxfam said that the deal exposed refugees to risk and abuse, and accused Europe of setting a dangerous precedent.

"The EU-Turkey deal is playing roulette with the futures of some of the world's most vulnerable. It has become mission impossible for those who need it most to seek refuge in Europe,[14]" Panos Navrozidis, the IRC's country director in Greece, said.

Even supporters of the Turkey deal in Brussels and other European capitals hesitate to describe it as a model. Some say it is symptomatic of an approach that prizes keeping people out of the EU as the primary, if not the only, goal.

Short-term policy objectives that prioritize domestic security prevent the EU from developing sustainable and effective migration management policies. This trend places fundamental human rights and the principle of mutual solidarity in the background. The EU must align its actions with its values in order to counter the risk of losing moral authority in managing migration.

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