Today | EUOBSERVER (read the full article)
The European Commission on Wednesday (16 March) said the EU-Turkey agreement to return migrants from Greece to Turkey would be “in accordance with the international and EU legal framework”.
The deal, which EU and Turkish leaders want to finalise at a summit on Friday, has been criticised by NGOs and the UN.
“Let me be crystal clear about this, there can be no ‘blanket returns’ and there can be no ‘refoulement’,” the commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said at a press conference.
But commission assurances rely on Turkey amending its legislation to give equal treatment to migrants from different countries as well as on Greece being able to manage a high number of asylum applications.
Many arriving on the Greek islands are likely to end up in holding centres before being sent back to Turkey.
Fears are also mounting that Greek courts will not be prepared for the number of cases and appeals to meet the speedy returns that underpin the agreement.
Cost estimates from the European Commission say at least €20 million a month from the EU budget will be needed to support Greek authorities.
Meanwhile, EU officials describe Turkey’s patchy application of the Refugee Convention as a legal formality. Turkey is signed up to the convention, but only European nationals benefit from its full coverage.
EU lawyers say Ankara will only need to demonstrate an “equivalent” to the convention in order for the draft pact to work. How that “equivalent” is applied in practice is not clear.
According to EU officials, it means Turkey needs to extend protection rights to all non-Syrians such as Afghans and Iraqis. Syrians in Turkey have a temporary status protection. Afghans and Iraqis do not.
That “equivalent” has to be met in order for Greece to start sending them back to Turkey and must be “substantive” and put into practice. But when asked about oversight, an EU official said it was not up to European lawyers to monitor compliance.
Instead, Greece and its courts will determine if Turkey passes the equivalency test.
With Greece under intense pressure, the chances of Athens not giving Turkey the green light, regardless of the facts, appears slim.
Meanwhile, the EU can say its deal follows EU and international law.