This week EU leaders will meet to finalise an agreement with Turkey aimed at stemming the flow of migrants along the Balkan route. European Conservatives and Reformists group home affairs spokesman Timothy Kirkhope MEP has written to all 28 EU leaders and the Presidents of the European Council and Commission urging a rethink of the agreement.
“This agreement must not be rushed into in desperation. EU leaders need to think long and hard about the widespread implications it will have. European Prime Ministers must not become so anxious to be seen to do something that they end up doing the completely wrong thing.
“We seem to be breaking a number of our own rules and conventions, we are risking continued unsustainable levels of economic migration into the EU, we risk shifting pressures to other routes, and we are giving away six billion euros with no way of ensuring it will be used effectively. This is not a workable agreement.
“Turkey must be a major partner in stemming the flow of economic migrants, but it cannot do our job for us. An ambitious UNHCR-led resettlement scheme can be delivered alongside a strong readmission agreement with Turkey, then the resources we are handing away could be spent in Europe on detention, processing and returns. We need to get the basics right and stop trying to find a solitary solution that does not exist.”
Timothy’s letter to EU Heads of State and Government is below:
Dear President and Members of the European Council, and President of the European Commission,
The preliminary outline of a potential EU-Turkey agreement on migration, set out at the last European Council meeting, has raised significant concerns across the European Parliament. Whilst the political group that I come from may not always agree with the rules that are put in place as part of the European Common Asylum System, it is clear that we cannot have an effective immigration system based on fairness unless the rules are applied as agreed.
The proposal as currently imagined will not help to stabilise the current migrant crisis in the way needed. I fear the adoption of such policies will not result in a significant decrease in the number of economic migrants coming to the EU, and may violate the laws and values we have put in place within the EU. The whole agreement with Turkey needs to be taken back to the drawing board and redrafted.
ONE IN ONE OUT
A “one in one out” policy cannot guarantee a fair system. The number of refugees admitted to the EU should not be dependent on the number we have to send back to Turkey. Instead the number should be based on what the EU can cope with and can feasibly and effectively integrate into society, and crucially prioritise those most genuinely in need. My fear is that those persons most in need may still be in other camps in and around Syria, and not those being relocated from Turkey.
If the scheme adopted only applies to certain third country nationalities, then how can the EU ascertain whether it is returning individuals who are in need of international protection but whom may not qualify in Turkey? Therefore, as part of any EU Turkey agreement there must be agreed set of guidelines on who does and doesn’t qualify for refugee status by the Turkish asylum system, and a procedure should be agreed. Each application should be examined on an individual basis and on individual circumstances by the Turkish authorities, and not based on their nationality.
Cooperating with Turkey is rightly an important priority of the EU in the fight against illegal trafficking of persons, and offering humanitarian assistance. However, this must come with sufficient guarantees, safeguards and planning.
The EU must not allocate six billion euros to Turkey with no guarantees of the scheme being a success. Any allocation of funds or increased funds to Turkey should be incrementally distributed. The EU, in cooperation with Turkey, should agree a clear and detailed plan on where the funds shall be spent, how much money will be allocated to each section of spending, and a clear roadmap for the handing over of funds, dependent on the previous period’s success and budgetary management. Furthermore, Turkish authorities should agree to an independent UN based evaluation of the spending of EU funds with a report issued every three months. After six months a full impact assessment should be carried out by the European Commission in cooperation with the UN to assess the effectiveness of the scheme, and the impact on fundamental rights.
INTEGRATION AND SECURITY
Before funds are delivered a full explanation should be given by the Turkish Government to the European Union regarding integration efforts towards asylum seekers in Turkey, including arrangements on access to education and the jobs market. A detailed roadmap should be adopted towards increasing efforts in Turkey to improve security, and their fight against terrorism, organised crime and corruption; and crucially how they intend to prevent, investigate and put in place strong criminal penalties for human traffickers. Turkey should also allow for independent inspections of detention facilities. Any agreement with Turkey must go hand in hand with a clear plan of how Turkey will cooperate with FRONTEX in the event of any future agreements made. Turkey should also provide for the collection of fingerprints of asylum seekers, and enter them into the EU’s EURODAC fingerprint system, so that the EU can detect whether or not those individuals claiming asylum in the EU have already attempted to do so through the Turkey route.
SHIFTING PRESSURES TO OTHER ROUTES
The route from Turkey is by no means the only route to the EU available, and there is the genuine concern that this agreement will merely shift the pressures to another part of the EU’s external border. Entry could increase through Italy, Malta, the Western Balkans and through the Artic and Russia. The efforts to prevent these routes becoming more burdened must be strengthened by ensuring that the EU continues to commit itself to other ambitious readmission agreements with other EU countries, and re-examine the EU’s financial assistance to third countries through a clear “more for more, and less for less” analysis and action points, by ensuring FRONTEX has a new and effective mandate, and ensuring that we create an accelerated returns procedure for failed EU asylum seekers.
RELOCATION/RESETTLEMENT IN PRACTICE
In order to prevent creating a pull factor – with Turkey as the transit country of choice – we should be clear that only a finite number of asylum seekers can be accepted, to ensure this agreement is sustainable. Any agreement on resettling refugees from Turkey must have the full backing and cooperation of all EU states and not just a few. We must not repeat the flaws and the failures of the emergency relocation mechanism. An honest discussion among EU leaders on how resettlement will work, and on the minimum and maximum expectations of each state, will help to prevent the constant shifting of burdens on to a few Member States.
Efforts elsewhere in the EU to process asylum seekers with adequate humanitarian facilities, and to increase the rate of returns, must not suffer as a consequence of this agreement. The EU should not see this crisis through the prism of one solution, and increased funding to Turkey should not penalise funding elsewhere in the EU.
With regard to the speed of Turkey’s accession and EU visa liberalisation, the EU must be crystal clear that neither of these privileges can be used as tools of persuasion. They are both a genuine consequence of meeting the requirements as set out in our own laws and Treaties. Any suggestion of advancing the visa policy should be a consequence of significant improvements in the requirements as set out in Turkey’s visa liberalisation roadmap. The conclusion of visa liberalisation with Turkey should not be accelerated to this summer, and the criteria and assessment measures should remain consistent.
An emergency brake built in to any deal with Turkey and activated if certain conditions are breached, or identified following an assessment by the European Commission. Such breaches would include:
1: An unmanageable number of persons having to be resettled within the EU. 2: Human rights violations by Turkey of those being returned. 3: Any misuse of the funds given by the EU.
It is my strong belief that EU leaders would be far better creating an ambitious UNHCR led resettlement scheme from Turkey and from conflict regions. This can be delivered by strengthening and expanding the existing EU Turkey readmission agreement, and using the funds being offered to Turkey to stabilise the EU’s external border, increase the capacity of EU agencies operating in hotpots and the external border, to speed up the process of asylum procedures, combat human trafficking, and provide dignified and adequate living conditions for those already in the EU.
To ensure the support of the European Parliament, the European Council must show that it respects the laws and international conventions in place, as new legislation is likely to require agreement of the co-legislators. We must not fight illegal immigration through illegal means ourselves. The challenges we face are far too serious, and the decisions we make too critical, for us to fail to consider in detail the impact that the next steps will have. EU leaders must reflect upon the widespread consequences that an agreement with Turkey could have, particularly because it will act as a blueprint for future agreements with third countries.