“The last thing we want is Idomeni to become the norm” in Europe, said First Vice-President Frans Timmermans while presenting European Commission’s “Six Principles for further developing EU-Turkey Cooperation in tackling the Migration Crisis” at Wednesday’s Communication with the European Council, prior to the 17-18 March EU Summit.
The six principles presented by Timmermans include (i) legal safeguards for the return of all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers crossing from Turkey to Greece; (ii) a clear resettlement scheme; (iii) faster implementation of the Visa Liberalisation Roadmap; (iv) faster disbursement of the funds under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey; (v) acceleration of EU – Turkey accession negotiations (vi) and the improvement of the humanitarian conditions inside Syria, the starting point of the refugee crisis.
“Returns can only take place in accordance with the international and the EU legal framework”, Timmermans said, making it clear that each person requesting international protection needs to be assessed individually, in line with the requirements of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. Timmermans added that the Union will need to support Greece in preparing the hotspots, increasing the inland reception capacity and addressing the transportation needs of the refugees. The Commission’s Vice President stressed that things need to move fast, because any delay in the implementation of the policies means more problems on the ground.
“As Europeans, we cannot and we will not turn our back on those who need international protection…it is our moral obligation to help them, it is our legal obligation to help them, and we will do so” in full compliance with the international laws, Timmermans said.
The Commissioner stated that “irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU have come to an end or have been at least substantially reduced.” He added that returns to Turkey under the readmission scheme should in turn be activated. “Once this is the case we can expect more Member States to participate” and take their stake of responsibility towards those who have a right to international protection, Timmermans added.
Concerning the EU Refugee aid to Turkey, Commission’s Vice-President said that the aid will contribute to improving the daily lives of the people in need, granting them better access to health and education services. Timmermans acknowledged the urgency for the implementation of the refugee program, as the present situation has become unacceptable. “People are still drowning in the Aegean, people are still suffering in Idomeni, we need to break that logic, we need to break the business of the smugglers,” he stressed.
Over the six principles, the Commission said that it has placed legal safeguards for the return of all the new irregular migrants and asylum seekers crossing from Turkey to Greece. The safeguards will ensure that the return of irregular migrants and asylum seekers, whose claims have been declared inadmissible or rejected, can only be carried out in respect of European and international laws. On this scheme, every asylum application will be treated individually, in accordance with the legal and procedural parameters set out in the EU Asylum Procedures Directive. Therefore the Commission made it clear that any “blanket” return policy is out of question. In terms of the readmission, all the newly rejected asylum seekers who entered Greece will be returned to Turkey, in respect to the bilateral readmission agreement between the two countries.
Commissioner stressed that those in need of international protection should apply to Articles 35 and 38 of the Asylum Procedures Directive. This means that an asylum application can be closed and declared inadmissible (i) if a person has already been recognised as a refugee; (ii) if a person already enjoys sufficient protection in a “first country of asylum,”; (iii) if a person has come to the EU from a “safe third country.” In the third case, the Member State which firstly accepted the people in need is to decide.
In the regulations, a number of safeguards exist to protect the asylum seekers’ rights. The safeguards include individual examinations of every case, personal interviews and a right of appeal against inadmissibility decisions. However, for the implementation of the safeguards, an increase of the reception capacity in the Greek islands and an adaptation of the hotspots to host readmission and asylum offices is essential.
The resettlement scheme will rely on the expertise of the UNHCR with the support of EASO, IOM. Moreover, national asylum officers will be involved so as to activate admissions under the Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme, with Member States contributing, on a voluntary basis.
On Visa Liberalisation Roadmap with Turkey, none of the 72 benchmarks which need to be fulfilled by Turkey will change and Turkey will need to adopt the pending measures in good time to activate the visa liberalisation by June. If that happens, the Commission is to make a legislative proposal to lift the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the end of April 2016.
The faster disbursement of the Funds under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey will lead to further action after a provision of €55 million which covered the educational needs of many Syrian children refugee. Another €40 million in humanitarian aid will be provided through the World Food Programme.
On EU-Turkey Accession Negotiations acceleration, both the Commission and Member States are preparing to progress towards the opening of five chapters. Preparatory documents are to be finalized in the spring with a view to submitting them to the Council, “without prejudice to Member States’ positions and the negotiating framework,” as the European Commission underlines.
Last but not least, the EU is ready to work with Turkey to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria, in order to better secure the fate of refugees living in the area, and calls for “swift implementation by all parties” of commitments made by the International Syria Support Group in Munich on February 11 and 12.