Refugee crisis: EU-Turkey deal 'illegal' according to UN

Turkey to receive €3.3bn in exchange for resettling refugees arriving in Greece as European leaders seek to close Balkan trail
By @sarkysaki on
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Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaking to the press after meeting with EU leaders on Monday Reuters

Turkey and the European Union have agreed on a proposed deal that will attempt to dramatically stem the flow of migrants crossing into Europe, despite warnings from the United Nations that the enforcement of the deal would be illegal.

On Monday, Turkey and the EU thrashed out plans to resettle refugees arriving in Greece. The proposal stipulated that for every Syrian refugee that was transferred from Greece to Turkey, a Syrian refugee in Turkey would be relocated to Europe.

By returning refugees who cross from Turkey into Greece, European leaders hope to reduce migrants taking the Balkan Trail to Central and Western Europe.

As part of the agreement, Turkey will receive an additional €3.3bn (AU$4.8bn) in funding and faster visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. Talks to discuss Turkey joining the EU will also be fast tracked.

German President Angela Merkel described the EU-Turkey deal as “a breakthrough,” while Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, declared after the talks that “the days of irregular migration to Europe are over”.

However, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Vincent Cochetel, stated that the plans for resettling migrants was not legal under international law.

"The collective expulsion of foreigners is prohibited under the European Convention of Human Rights," Cochetel said in Geneva.

"An agreement that would be tantamount to a blanket return to a third country is not consistent with European law, not consistent with international law."

Despite Cochetel’s warning, the deal and collaboration between Turkey and the EU demonstrates the eagerness of European politicians to solve the biggest refugee crisis to strike Europe since the Second World War. From January 1 to February 29 this year, over 130,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea seeking refuge.

Croatia and Slovenia closed their borders to refugees on Wednesday in a bid to halt the stream of refugees following the well-worn route to Germany and western Europe.

But the deal sheds light on the tension between the EU and Turkey, who in October had labelled the Union’s membership offer in exchange for halting the refugee influx as “bribery”. Some EU leaders had also voiced freedom of the press concerns during the talks, after Turkey’s largest newspaper Zaman was seized by the government on Sunday.

Riot police fired tear gas at protesters and stormed the paper’s headquarters. Its staff replaced, Monday’s edition was highly supportive of Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan, signalling a dramatic shift in the editorial tone of the paper.

RTS9DN6 Riot police cut off the gate to enter the headquarters of Zaman newspaper in Istanbul  Reuters

Zaman is thought to be linked to Fethullah Gulen, a well-known cleric based in the United States who is strongly opposed to Erdoğan. The English version of the paper is expected to re-launch in Germany. 

However, commentators point out that Europe’s reliance on Turkey as a barrier to new refugee arrivals means the EU is increasingly reluctant to damage relations with the Turkish government.  

It is thought that Merkel delayed the release of a critical progress report on Turkey by the European Commision when she visited the country prior to the Turkish general election in November.  

Elijah Magnier, international correspondent for Kuwaiti based newspaper Al Rai, believes that Turkey is too important to the EU for its leaders to criticise Turkish domestic policy.  

“Turkey’s attitude toward the Kurds or its domestic policy has little effect on its economical relationship with the EU and won’t change much of its political stance towards it,” Magnier said.

“After all, Turkey is still a much-needed NATO partner and the first wall against the wave of immigrants into Europe.”

The Syrian conflict, which is overwhelming responsible for the influx of refugees into Europe, is also influencing the actions of the Turkish government.  

“Turkey is suffering economically due to the consequences of the Syrian war and the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) policy towards it. Ankara is trying to find other markets to regain the huge loss caused by the Russian-Turkish tension.”

A deal on refugee arrivals could usher in a change in Turkey’s policy in Syria and help to bring the five year old conflict to a resolution.

“Geographically, Turkey is one of the players that could help bringing an end to the Syrian conflict quicker or slower than required,” said Mr Magnier.

“If Turkey seals completely its borders for Jihadists like the al Qaeda franchise in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), and Islamic State (IS), the Syrian conflict will end much faster.”

Turkey and EU leaders will meet again on March 17 to finalise the details of the agreement.

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