On 18 March 2016, EU Heads of State or Government and Turkey agreed to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU and replace it instead with legal channels of resettlement of refugees to the European Union. The aim is to replace disorganised, chaotic, irregular and dangerous migratory flows by organised, safe and legal pathways to Europe for those entitled to international protection in line with EU and international law.
The Statement took effect as of 20 March 2016, and 4 April 2016 was set as the target date for the start of returns of people arriving in Greece after 20 March and of the first resettlements. 4 April 2016 thus saw the start of two processes: returns from the Greek islands to Turkey to make clear that this is a dangerous route and the wrong route; and the first resettlements of Syrian refugees from Turkey to Europe, to underline that this is how Europe lives up to its responsibilities as a continent committed to providing protection to those in need, as well as the Geneva Convention and to the fundamental right to asylum.
The implementation of the Statement requires huge operational efforts from all involved, and most of all from Greece. As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, this is a Herculean task. Greece and Turkey are the two governments in charge of implementing the Statement. It is their authorities who have to do the legal and operational work. The Commission is assisting Greece with advice, expertise and support from the EU budget and by coordinating the support which is being provided by other Member States and EU agencies – via the EU Coordinator Maarten Verwey who is leading three teams in Brussels, Athens and Ankara.
Significant steps in the implementation of the Statement have been taken and good progress in operationalising the Statement has been made. Continued success will however depend mainly on the political determination of all parties involved. So far, 511 Syrian refugees have been resettled from Turkey to Europe. The return of 462 migrants who had not made asylum applications in Greece has been carried out from the Greek islands to Turkey, in full respect of EU and international law. There has been a substantial decrease in the numbers leaving Turkey for Greece: In the weeks before the implementation of the Statement, around 1,740 migrants were crossing the Aegean Sea to the Greek islands every day. By contrast, the average daily arrivals since 1 May are down to 47, a decrease of over 95%.
Continued efforts are needed from Greece, Turkey and all EU Member States in the days and weeks to come.
What was agreed in the EU-Turkey Statement of 18 March?
The EU and Turkey agreed that:
1) All new irregular migrants or asylum seekers whose applications have been declared inadmissible crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as of 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey;
2) For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled to the EU from Turkey directly;
3) Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for irregular migration opening from Turkey to the EU;
4) Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU are ending or have been substantially reduced, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated;
5) The fulfilment of the visa liberalisation roadmap will be accelerated with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016. Turkey will take all the necessary steps to fulfil the remaining requirements;
6) The EU will, in close cooperation with Turkey, further speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated €3 billion under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey. Once these resources are about to be used in full, the EU will mobilise additional funding for the Facility up to an additional €3 billion to the end of 2018;
7) The EU and Turkey welcomed the ongoing work on the upgrading of the Customs Union.
8) The accession process will be re-energised, with Chapter 33 to be opened during the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union and preparatory work on the opening of other chapters to continue at an accelerated pace;
9) The EU and Turkey will work to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria.
What has Greece done to implement the Statement?
Since 18 March 2016, Greece has:
Moved all migrants who arrived on the islands before 20 March to the mainland;
Returned from Greece to Turkey 462 persons who entered irregularly after 20 March and did not apply for asylum;
Adapted its hotspots to facilitate swift returns and provided for closed reception facilities where necessary to avoid irregular migrants absconding when they are subject to return decisions;
Adapted its legislation to provide a legal framework for the implementation of the ‘first safe country of asylum’ and ‘safe third country’ principles and ensuring fast-track procedures for the examination of asylum applications, including appeal procedures with currently 20 appeal committees operational to examine all pending asylum claims at second instance by the end of 2016;
Agreed to further amend their legislation to set up the new Appeal Authority and the new Appeal Committees responsible for the judicial review of decisions on applications for international protection taken by the Greek Asylum Service;
Begun processing claims and delivering judgments and appeals, based on individual assessments.
What has Turkey done to implement the Statement?
Since 18 March 2016, Turkey has:
Effectively received all those returned from Greece;
Provided formal guarantees that all Syrian refugees returned to Turkey from the Greek islands may request and be granted protection under the temporary protection regulation in Turkey;
Provided formal guarantees that non-Syrians in need of international protection who are returned from Greece to Turkey will be able to apply for and receive protection and have their applications processed in a timely manner and will be protected from refoulement;
Agreed to allow the EU to monitor regularly the situation of Syrians and non-Syrians returned to Turkey, including access to refugee camps and centres, and concluded an agreement with the UNHCR to provide access to removal centres to monitor implementation of international protection procedures. The first visits to these camps and removal centres have already taken place;
Ensured access to the labour market for non-Syrians in need of international protection;
Put in place a roadmap to reduce the backlog of applications for international protection by non-Syrians;
Completed and shared with the Commission a roadmap on the implementation of voluntary returns.
The Turkish Parliament approved the entry into force of the provisions of the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement concerning third country nationals as of 1 June. The relevant law was signed by the President’s office on 18 May and published in Turkey’s Official Journal on 20 May. The entry into force of the provisions on third-country nationals of the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement should be completed with a decision by the Turkish Council of Ministers as a matter of urgency to allow for actual readmission.
Continuous patrols by the Turkish and Greek authorities are an important factor in preventing migrants crossing the Aegean. The Greek and Turkish authorities now exchange information on a regular basis. During the first five months in 2016, the Greek Coast Guard alerted its Turkish counterpart to 120 search and rescue cases. Frontex has deployed a liaison officer in Ankara since April which has allowed for regular operational contacts and daily reporting with the Turkish National Frontex Point of Contact. Since 2 May 2016, a Turkish Liaison Officer has also been stationed with Europol. The Turkish authorities have set up units on migrant smuggling and human trafficking and are taking legislative steps to put in place higher penalties for smugglers.
How many staff from the EU Agencies have been deployed to the Greek islands?
EU Agencies are providing the necessary support to the implementation of the Statement. In total, 141 Frontex and European Asylum Support Office (EASO) officers are currently working in Greece under the EU-Turkey Statement (43 interpreters, 47 asylum experts and 51 escort officers) – corresponding to the current needs identified by the Greek authorities. A total of 584 Frontex officers are currently deployed in Greece within the framework of the Rapid Intervention Poseidon.
All Member States have provided detailed indications including figures for their contributions to Frontex and EASO calls for experts and a significant number of additional experts have been identified for deployment should the Greek authorities so request.
How many migrants arrived in Greece since 20 March?
In the weeks before the implementation of the Statement, there were around 1,740 daily crossings of migrants to the Greek islands. Since 1 May the average daily number of arrivals is down to 47, a decrease of over 95%.
The total numbers of irregular arrivals from Turkey to Greece in September, October, November, December 2015, January and February 2016 were respectively 147,639, 214,792, 154,381, 104,399, 61,602 and 56,335 persons.
For the same months the corresponding daily averages were 4,921, 6,929, 5,146, 3,368, 1,987 and 1,943 persons.
How many returns and resettlements have taken place so far?
Since the Statement entered into force, there have been 462 returns from the Greek islands to Turkey of persons who did not apply for asylum or voluntarily revoked their asylum application, including 31 Syrians. Other nationalities returned have included Pakistanis, Afghans, Bangladeshis, and Iranians as well as people from Iraq, India, Congo, Algeria, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Nepal, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. In total, 1,546 returns of irregular migrants have been carried out from Greece to Turkey in the course of 2016.
511 Syrian refugees were resettled from Turkey to Europe to underline that Europe will live up to its responsibilities as a continent committed to the Geneva Convention and to the fundamental right to asylum.
How are resettlements and returns physically being carried out?
Resettlements from Turkey to the European Union are taking place via plane.
Returns from the Greek islands to Turkey are taking place via ferry and bus. The operational arrangements are decided between Turkey and Greece. Frontex is assisting in their practical implementation.
Frontex has mobilised the following resources for the time being:
On what basis are Syrians being resettled from Turkey?
Resettlement from Turkey to the EU will be carried out in the first instance by honouring the commitments of Member States under the Council conclusions of 22 July 2015 of which 18,000 places for resettlement remain.
Furthermore, the Commission has proposed an amendment to the relocation decision of 22 September 2015 to allow for the resettlement of an additional 54,000 persons under a voluntary arrangement.
Beyond this, the Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme based on the Commission’s Recommendation to that effect last December, will be activated.
How does the resettlement process, including the selection of candidates, work?
To organise fast-track resettlement under the 1:1 scheme, a mechanism is being established and Standard Operating Procedures have been developed, in close cooperation between the Commission, Member States, EASO, UNHCR and Turkey. The system foresees that an initial list of resettlement candidates is prepared by the Turkish authorities on the basis of vulnerability criteria. This list is then assessed by UNHCR in order to identify the eligible cases to be submitted to EU Member States for resettlement, especially taking into account their situation and vulnerability. Member States make the final decision on candidates submitted to them by the UNHCR, and carry out their own security checks.
On what legal basis are irregular migrants being returned from the Greek islands to Turkey?
People who do not apply for asylum in Greece or whose applications for asylum have been declared inadmissible will be returned to Turkey. The legal framework for these returns is the bilateral readmission agreement between Greece and Turkey and the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement.
On what legal basis are asylum seekers being returned from the Greek islands to Turkey?
People who apply for asylum in Greece will have their applications treated on a case-by-case basis, in line with EU and international law requirements and the principle of non-refoulement – the EU-Turkey Statement has made this very clear. There will be individual interviews, individual assessments and rights of appeal. There will be no blanket and no automatic returns of asylum seekers.
The EU asylum rules allow Member States in certain clearly defined circumstances to declare an application “inadmissible”, that is to say, to reject the application without examining the substance after a fast-track procedure and thereby to accelerate the process of handling applications.
There are two legal possibilities that can be used for declaring asylum applications inadmissible, in relation to Turkey:
1) first country of asylum (Article 35 of the Asylum Procedures Directive): where the person has already been recognised as a refugee in that country or otherwise enjoys sufficient protection there;
2) safe third country (Article 38 of the Asylum Procedures Directive): where the person has not already received protection in the third country but the third country can guarantee effective access to protection to the readmitted person.
To ensure full respect of EU and international law, Greece and Turkey have both taken a number of legislative and administrative steps.
As well as providing assurances that all returned Syrians will be granted temporary protection upon return, the Turkish authorities have provided further written assurances to the Commission that each non-Syrian who seeks international protection in Turkey will enjoy protection from refoulement, in line with international standards and in accordance with the applicable Law on Foreigners and International Protection.
The Commission has continued to support Greece by providing it with all the elements to conclude that Turkey is a safe third country and/or a country of first asylum within the meaning of the Asylum Procedures Directive, for the purpose of returning irregular migrants from the Greek islands to Turkey under the terms of the EU-Turkey Statement.
The Commission, as communicated to the Greek authorities on 5 May, finds that the legal framework in Turkey which establishes the protection status granted to Syrians (Temporary Protection Regulation) appears as sufficient protection or protection equivalent to that foreseen by the Geneva Convention. The Commission assess that Turkey has taken all the necessary measures in order to allow Greece to declare, on the basis of individual assessments, an application for asylum inadmissible in accordance with the Asylum Procedures Directive for both Syrian and non-Syrian applicants for asylum who had irregularly crossed into the Aegean Islands via Turkey as of 20 March 2016. Moreover, at the meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 20 May 2016, Member States indicated that they share this assessment.
What safeguards exist for asylum seekers?
All applications need to be treated individually and due account must be given to the situation of vulnerable groups, in particular unaccompanied minors for whom all decisions must be in their best interests.
All applicants will also be able to appeal the decision.
Will asylum seekers remain in Greece during the appeal procedure?
Yes. When applying the concept of “safe third country” and “first country of asylum”, any return decision is suspended automatically while the first appeal is being treated. A further judicial appeal does not have an automatic suspensive effect on the return process.
Where will migrants be accommodated whilst they await return?
Migrants will be accommodated either in open or in closed reception facilities on the Greek islands.
The Asylum Reception Conditions Directive and the Return Directive contain rules on the possibility to detain asylum-seekers and irregular migrants, in particular if there is a risk of absconding.
Detention must only ever be a means of last resort and must be proportionate.
The Commission is therefore asking Greece to pay particular attention to the needs of vulnerable people and unaccompanied minors, who in principle should not be detained.
How can you be sure that asylum seekers will be given protection in Turkey?
Both the EU and Turkey agreed in their Statement of 18 March to respect the principle of non-refoulement.
Turkey has agreed to allow the EU to monitor regularly the situation of Syrians and non-Syrians returned to Turkey, including access to refugee camps and centres, and has concluded an agreement with UNHCR to provide access to removal centres to notably monitor Turkey’s practices in relation to international protection procedures.
In addition, the EU is speeding up the disbursement of funds from the €3 billion Facility for Refugees in Turkey. This funding will support Syrians in Turkey by providing access to food, shelter, education and healthcare. An additional €3 billion will be made available after this money is used to the full, up to the end of 2018. The UNHCR will be a key actor in the resettlement process to provide additional support and supervision.
Who is coordinating the EU support to implement the EU-Turkey Statement?
Heads of State or Government meeting in the European Council on 17-18 March 2016 agreed that “the Commission will coordinate and organise together with Member States and Agencies the necessary support structures to implement it effectively.”
President Juncker appointed Maarten Verwey to act as the EU coordinator to implement the EU-Turkey Statement. Maarten Verwey is the Director-General of the European Commission’s Structural Reform Support Service. He is supported by a coordination team responsible for the overall strategic direction and relations with key stakeholders, an operations group responsible for analysing all relevant data, planning and deployment of Member State experts, and a team focused on resettlement.
A steering committee, chaired by the Commission with Greece, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), Frontex, Europol, and representatives of the Netherlands (Council Presidency), France, the United Kingdom and Germany, oversees the implementation of the Statement when it comes to returns and resettlement and addresses bottlenecks.
The EU coordinator has at his disposal significant resources from relevant European Commission services and EU agencies (FRONTEX, EASO, Europol).
What financial support is being provided to Greece?
The Commission estimated the costs of the practical implementation of the Statement to be around €280 million over the next six months and it was agreed that the EU budget should finance these costs.
The EU will support Greece to put in place the necessary human resources, infrastructure and reception capacity in order to carry out registrations appeals processes and large scale return operations.
Since the beginning of 2015, Greece has been awarded €262 million in emergency assistance. For 2016, the Commission has significantly increased the emergency assistance budget under the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and the Internal Security Fund (ISF) – the total amount of emergency funding available in 2016 for the refugee crisis now stands at €464 million of which €267 million had been earmarked for Greece.
Since the last report on 20 April, the Commission has awarded a further EUR €56 million of emergency funding under AMIF to increase the capacity of the Greek authorities to register new arrivals and process asylum claims. This funding will create better conditions for vulnerable migrants and strengthen the process with additional human resources, better IT infrastructure, increased availability of interpreters and better access to information.
Discussions are ongoing with Greek authorities on further emergency assistance requests, including a request from the Greek Ministry of Health. This final set of emergency assistance requests would complete the implementation of the emergency response plan for Greece set out in March 2016.
On 19 April, the European Commission announced €83 million under the new Emergency Assistance Instrument, proposed by the Commission on 2 March, to improve living conditions for refugees in Greece, with funding made available immediately to the UNHCR, the International Federation of the Red Cross and six international NGOs. Thanks to these new projects, the Commission will help provide tens of thousands of refugees and migrants in Greece with primary health care, food, better hygiene conditions, child friendly spaces and construct temporary housing.
Funding available under the Greek multiannual National Programmes
The emergency funding comes on top of the €509 million already allocated to Greece under the national programmes for 2014-2020 (€294.5 million from AMIF and €214.7 million from ISF).
€60 million euro is available in funding for return operations, including the reimbursement of the costs of Frontex return experts, the reimbursement of transport costs (including vessels made available through Frontex) and the reimbursement of police officers for return escorts (including police officers seconded by other Member States on the basis of bilateral police cooperation agreements).
Under the budget of the European Asylum Support Office, €1.9 million is available to support Member States under particular pressure in 2016 with the funding of, for example, asylum experts and mobile containers.
On 24 May, the Commission awarded €25 million in emergency funding to EASO to enhance its capacity to support the Greek authorities.
Emergency Assistance mechanism
On 2 March, the Commission proposed an Emergency Assistance instrument, providing €700 million over the next three years, to be used within the European Union to provide a faster, more targeted response to major crises, including helping Member States cope with large numbers of refugees. The estimated needs for 2016 are €300 million with a further €200 million each for use in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
What happens to migrants who were already in Greece before 20 March?
The total number of persons relocated from Greece by 10 June stands at 1,503. Although this constitutes progress, it still falls far short of the Commission’s ambition for Member States to relocate 6,000 people per month.
With the financial support of the Commission and support on the ground from EASO and UNHCR, the Greek asylum service launched a major pre-registration exercise on 8 June with the aim to pre-register 1,400 persons per day to accelerate the identification and full processing of relocation applicants. A significant number of additional asylum seekers will be ready for relocation within the following months.
What is being done to prevent the development of new alternative migratory routes?
For the moment there is no evidence that new routes are developing directly as a result of the EU-Turkey Statement and the efforts to control the flows on the Eastern Mediterranean route. However, the situation is being monitored closely by the Commission and Frontex
In the framework of the European Border Surveillance System, Frontex shares incident reporting and operational information, and undertakes risk analysis, in order to quickly identify any possible shift in migratory routes. Different surveillance tools, including satellite monitoring, are being used for the Adriatic Sea and the Mediterranean. The Frontex operation Triton in the Central Mediterranean has also been extended to cover the part of the Adriatic Sea between Greece, Italy and Albania. Aerial surveillance between Italy and Albania under the Triton operation is also taking place.
What is the state of play as regards visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens?
On 4 May, the Commission published its Third Progress Report on the implementation of Turkey’s Visa Liberalisation Roadmap and proposed lifting the visa requirements for the citizens of Turkey, under the understanding that the Turkish authorities will fulfil, as a matter of urgency and as they committed to do on 18 March 2016, the outstanding seven benchmarks. While two of the seven outstanding benchmarks require a longer timeline for implementation, five benchmarks remain to be fulfilled:
To adopt the measure to prevent corruption foreseen by the Roadmap, ensuring an effective follow-up to the recommendations issued by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO);
To align the legislation on personal data protection with EU standards, notably to ensure that the data protection authority can act in an independent manner and that the activities of law enforcement agencies fall within the scope of the law;
To conclude an operational cooperation agreement with Europol;
To offer effective judicial cooperation in criminal matters to all EU Member States;
To revise the legislation and practices on terrorism in line with European standards, notably by better aligning the definition of terrorism in order to narrow the scope of the definition and by introducing a criterion of proportionality.
For practical and procedural reasons, two of the seven outstanding benchmarks require a longer timeline for implementation:
Fully implement the provisions of the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement; including those related to the third country nationals;
Upgrading the existing biometric passport so as to include security features in line with the latest EU standards.
Since 4 May, further progress has been made, notably with the entry into force on 1 June of the provisions related to third-country nationals under the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement which should be completed with a decision by the Turkish Council of Ministers as a matter of urgency to allow for actual readmission. The Commission will continue to support Turkey in the work that still needs to be done to fulfil the remaining benchmarks.
What is the state of play as regards the implementation of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey?
The Facility for Refugees in Turkey provides for a joint coordination mechanism for actions financed by the EU budget and national contributions made by the Member States, designed to ensure that the needs of refugees and host communities are addressed in a comprehensive and coordinated manner. The resources of the Facility will come from the EU budget and from EU Member States over 2016 and 2017, making a total so far of €3 billion over two years.
In addition to €1 billion from the EU budget, all EU Member States have now sent in their contribution certificates for the €2 billion in national contributions pledged for 2016-2017. The Facility is now fully operational.
So far, of the overall €3 billion, €740 million has been allocated, for both humanitarian and non-humanitarian assistance. Of the €740 million allocated, €150 million has been contracted. Of these €150 million contracted, €105 million has been disbursed so far. The Commission aims by before the end of the summer to have committed €2 billion of the Facility envelope for 2016-2017 and to have contracted €1 billion.
Funding under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey supports refugees in the country – it is funding for refugees and not funding for Turkey. The support seeks to improve conditions for refugees in Turkey as part of the EU’s comprehensive approach to addressing the refugee crisis inside and outside the EU.
Has the Commission presented a proposal to open Chapter 33 as referred to in the 18 March EU-Turkey Statement?
Work is progressing on Chapter 33 (financial and budgetary provisions) as scheduled. The Commission submitted a Draft Common Position to the Council on 29 April. The examination of this document by the Council started on 3 May.
This puts the Council in a position to complete the necessary procedures in time for the opening of this chapter during the Dutch presidency of the Council of the European Union, as referred to in the 18 March Statement.
For more information
Second Report on the progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement
FACTSHEET: the Facility for Refugees in Turkey
Operational implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement: Member States pledges and deployments for Frontex and EASO operations – returns and resettlements
EU-Turkey Statement of 18 March
EU-Turkey Action Plan of 15 October, activated on 29 November