Fidest – Agenzia giornalistica/press agency

Quotidiano di informazione – Anno 33 n° 335

Sailing in the dark – 300 with a mission Visa, terror and the Aegean refugee agreement

Posted by fidest press agency su domenica, 22 Maggio 2016

sailingThe EU-Turkey agreement on the refugee crisis in the Aegean entered into force two months ago. Legally it is no more than a non-binding “statement”, but its strength derives from a clear and powerful objective:”In order to break the business model of the smugglers and to offer migrants an alternative to putting their lives at risk, the EU and Turkey today decided to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU.”
In 2015 more than 500,000 people arrived from Turkey on the Greek island of Lesbos – close to the total number of irregular crossings into the whole EU in five years (2009-2013). In 2015 more than 800,000 people crossed the Aegean. In autumn 2015 ESI argued that the right plan might lead “within six weeks to a dramatic fall in the number of crossings.” After the Aegean agreement entered into force it took only two weeks for the number of daily crossings to fall from more than 1,100 a day in March to one tenth that number in April. And while 805 people died in the Aegean in 2015 (IOM), following the entry into force of the agreement the number of people who drowned fell sharply
In short: so far the agreement is delivering more than expected. And yet, there are dark clouds on the horizon, reasons to fear that in the next weeks, even before the end of the Dutch EU presidency bad management, bad faith, negligence and recklessness might sink this ship. The question today is: what can be done to prevent this?
sailing1A few numbers reveal how the Aegean agreement is currently failing: the number of people who have been stuck on the Greek islands since 20 March; the capacities to accommodate these people on these islands; the number of those returned to Turkey; and the (unknown) number of asylum applications that have been decided.The total number of people on the Greek islands (Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros, Kos, Rhodes, Kalymnos) on 17 May was 8,511. According to UNHCR the capacities to accommodate them are as follows:
Lesbos: 3,500 places for 4,207 people
Chios: 1,100 places for 2,276 people
Eight weeks after the agreement entered into force there were three Greek asylum case workers for 2,276 people on Chios and none at all for 500 people on Leros. And yet, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) argues that there is no need for more asylum case workers from the EU as the mission would not be able to absorb them.This is not the only indication of terrible mismanagement. Another is a striking lack of transparency about what is happening on the islands. Journalists spend many days on Lesbos or on Chios and struggle to get basic information. Regular reporting by the European Commission leaves out some of the most important information (how many cases have been resolved? How many Greek case workers are deployed?).
sailing2And yet, Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker continues to refer to the implementation of the Aegean agreement as mainly a burden for the Greek Asylum Service: “This is a Herculean task facing us, especially Greece is facing a Herculean task.” But evoking ancient heroes, even Hercules, will not help without better management. To pretend that this agreement can be implemented by Greece alone, with support from the European Commission as currently organised, puts everything achieved so far at risk again.
It is crucial that the EU demonstrates that it means it, and organises itself for this to happen. This would be a huge help for Greece. It would be a very important success for the European Commission. It would also be a crucial step towards a credible European asylum policy. As Robert Schuman put it: “Europe will not be built all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements.” Today, the road to a credible EU policy on asylum passes through Lesbos.
Inadequate implementation of the agreement’s provision concerning asylum and readmission on the Greek islands is not the only shortcoming, however. There is also the fact that everyone seems to have forgotten about point 4 of the EU-Turkey agreement:
“Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU are ending or at least have been substantially and sustainably reduced, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated. EU Member States will contribute on a voluntary basis to this scheme.”As the numbers of crossings continue to fall, the moment has arrived to prepare for this scheme. But is anybody doing so?
Since 20 March only 177 Syrians have been resettled from Turkey. With such low numbers the promise that the EU is going to offer asylum seekers “an alternative to putting their lives at risk” rings hollow.For serious resettlement to happen EU member states must find a quick way to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey, leaving out unnecessary intermediaries. The current “fast track Standard operating procedures,” adopted at the end of April, are neither fast nor appropriate.
Since 20 March only 389 migrants have been returned from Greece to Turkey. And yet, instead of these readmissions being carefully monitored so as to dispel doubts about Turkey as a safe third country and safe country of asylum, the lack of transparency, lacking follow up and overall absence of accountability has undermined not just the rights of those returned, but also prospects for the whole agreement. For its implementation it is vital that international law is upheld on both sides of the Aegean; that refugees’ rights are respected and that their circumstances are adequate. Shortly after the first migrants were returned to Turkey on 4 April, press reports emerged that 13 non-Syrians had been sent back who had not been given the opportunity to apply for asylum in Greece. More than a month later, there has been no official confirmation or rebuttal of this claim.
The likely consequences of not offering visa liberalisation in June are the following:
The – legally non-binding – EU-Turkey statement is – perhaps fatally – undermined. This allows Turkey to walk away from other demanding parts of the Aegean agreement. Without visa liberalisation readmission is at risk.
Ordinary Turks will not be able to travel easily. However, over 2 million Turks with special/green passports – state officials and their families – will continue to travel visa free to most EU member states.
In fact, for the EU the 72 roadmap benchmarks are not legal criteria, but political. The EU offers visa free travel to many countries with human rights problems. (foto: sailing)

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