18 March 2016

On Thursday 17 and Friday 18 March, European leaders met in Brussels to discuss the refugee situation in Europe and the proposed EU-Turkey deal. Ahead of the meeting, many organisations, including ECRE and several of its members, called on national and EU leaders to drop the proposed deal, denouncing it as illegal and immoral.

“It is a huge problem that people are being denied the chance to have their asylum claims processed and that people are being rejected based solely on their nationality rather than protection needs,” stated the Danish Refugee Council in a joint letter with 20 other organisations.

The British Refugee Council called on UK Prime Minister David Cameron to reject the deal, explaining that “a policy of blanket returns of all ‘irregular migrants arriving in Greece’ is incompatible with  EU  and  international  law  and  would  be  in  complete dereliction of  the  principle  of non-refoulement.” The same issues were highlighted by France terre d’asile, which stated that the EU, a former Nobel peace prize winner, is now dishonouring its values and treating people like merchandise. The Irish Refugee Council also called on country leaders to reject the proposed deal.

On Wednesday 16 March, the European Commission published a series of operational steps to be included in the proposed deal to ensure its compliance with international and EU law. The recommendations include, among others, the need to grant everyone an individual assessment of their personal situation and the right to appeal a return decision. Amnesty International commented that “in reality, the essence of the deal has not changed. These fig-leaf procedures won’t hide Europe’s guilty conscience if large scale returns of refugees start happening now.” While ECRE acknowledges the Commission’s call for procedural safeguards to be respected, it remains of the opinion that Turkey does not fulfil the legal criteria laid down in EU law to be considered as a safe third country and expresses strong concerns in relation to the conflation of the concepts of relocation, resettlement and humanitarian admission in the Commission’s communication

“No deal is better than a bad deal. Instead of racking their brains to find a legal fig leaf for measures like collective expulsions, the European Council’s members should have the courage to scrap the deal. Instead, they should adopt bold measures at the summit meeting this week that would radically shift the union’s approach to migration,” stated Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks.

ECRE published a joint statement with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International: “this new proposal is only the latest in a dangerous trend.  Over the past few months, various European governments have imposed discriminatory border closures and unlawful caps on asylum applications. The result is a deepening humanitarian disaster for thousands of refugees trapped in Greece, a surge in alarmist, vitriolic rhetoric stigmatizing asylum seekers and migrants.”

At the time of publication of the Weekly Bulletin, no conclusions from the European Council were available and negotiations were still ongoing.

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 18 March 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.