What remains of the EU-Turkey migration pact, today decried by Erdogan?

Greek police and border guards face refugees trying to cross the border with Turkey into the city of Kastanies on March 7.
Greek police and border guards face refugees trying to cross the border with Turkey into the city of Kastanies on March 7. GIANNIS PAPANIKOS / AP

Faced with the arrival of thousands of migrants from Turkey, the agency for the protection of the external borders of the European Union (Frontex), launched, Monday, March 2, an emergency intervention to secure the eastern border of the Greece. The first agents are due to arrive in the Evros region on Wednesday March 11 to launch the operation to support Greece the following day.

At the request of Athens and with the agreement of the European Commission, Frontex thus takes responsibility for a mission, however entrusted to Turkey, on March 18, 2016, when the Migration Pact was signed with the EU. The fight against "Irregular migration routes" is a central part of the agreement, after more than two years of a major migration crisis at the gates of Europe. But the decision of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to facilitate the crossing of its borders to Greece in response to the entry into its territory of many Syrians fleeing the bombings of Idlib (northern Syria), called into question the viability of the agreement with Brussels.

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"The events on the Greek-Turkish border clearly suggest political pressure …", said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday March 9. Unhappy with European aid for the care of 3 million migrants and refugees, the Turkish president is trying, by opening his borders, to renegotiate an agreement whose main points are still only partially implemented. "We will maintain the measures currently in place at the border until Turkey's expectations (…) receive a concrete answer ", insisted Wednesday, Erdogan.

The implementation of this agreement, from March 20, 2016, provides that all "New irregular migrants" arriving in Greece are returned to Turkey. When they arrive on the Greek islands, refugees must immediately be placed in centers, where they are notified of their return to Turkey.

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In addition, the agreement contains a "Syrian against Syrian" mechanism: for a Syrian sent back to Turkey, another Syrian who remains in refugee camps in Turkey is sent to Europe thanks to a humanitarian corridor.

The exchange had been capped at 72,000 people, with Hungary and other European countries refusing to accept more. In reality, it was much more limited: in the summer of 2019, Europe had welcomed 21,163 Syrian refugees under this agreement, while 1,843 refugees who entered Greece illegally were returned to Turkey.

A man from Turkey enters the village of Thourio, Greece, after crossing the border on March 9.
A man from Turkey enters the village of Thourio, Greece, after crossing the border on March 9. GIANNIS PAPANIKOS / AP
  • Arrivals in Europe via Turkey and Turkish politics

Although the phenomenon is not solely due to the action of the Turkish authorities – the anti-migration policies of the Balkan countries may also have had a deterrent effect – the number of arrivals in Europe from Turkey has dropped sharply following the application of the agreement with the EU. While nearly 200,000 migrants had reached the Greek islands between December 2015 and the end of February 2016, there were only 3,500 over the same period a year later.

Sign of the turnaround of Mr. Erdogan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted, between 1er and on March 2, the arrival of 1,200 people on the eastern Aegean islands. A number "Higher than the most recent daily statistics", according to the UNHCR, which calls for support to Greece and Turkey in welcoming refugees.

In addition, no decline has ever been observed in the Greek region of Evros, at the heart of the new migratory wave since the beginning of March, where there is a land border of some 200 kilometers with Turkey. Greek authorities reported an average of 44 arrivals per day to the area in 2017. They rose to 72 in January and February 2018, then to 200 the following months, to reach 2,700 in April 2018. Today, the UNHCR estimates that 20,000 migrants are waiting along the land and sea borders between Turkey and Greece.

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  • Six billion euros in investments

Under the agreement with Turkey, two tranches of € 3 billion were to be invested by the EU to help Ankara in welcoming refugees. The European Commission said earlier this month that it has already distributed € 4.7 billion, including to humanitarian organizations. For its part, the Turkish government has been asking since 2016 that the money be returned directly to it and ensures that it has invested, for its part, 22 billion euros in this goal, according to the Touteleurope.eu website.

During talks between Europeans and Turks on Monday (March 9th), the latter suggested that a renegotiation of the agreement on migrants was necessary, Ankara asking for more support in the face of the arrival of refugees from Syria. Ursula von der Leyen also promised Monday "Relaunch the dialogue" with Turkey. While judging "Unacceptable" the "Border events", she encouraged Mr. Erdogan to "Respect commitments" of the 2016 agreement, still in effect.

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