After two years of negotiations, the EU and Turkey have signed this week a Readmission agreement in exchange for opening talks on visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens travelling to Europe. The European Commission has published an accompanying ‘A roadmap towards a visa-free regime with Turkey’ which lists the requirements which should be fulfilled by Turkey, such as managing borders in a manner that effectively prevents irregular migration to Europe. The main objective of the agreement is to establish procedures which allow both parties to return foreign nationals who have irregularly entered and/or reside on their territories. Turkey will be required to take asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected in a Member State and had previously transited Turkey to enter EU territory.
The agreement also sets out an accelerated return procedure whereby third country nationals apprehended at the border region can be quickly returned to Turkey. In recent months, there have been various reports of asylum seekers and migrants being pushed back by Greek and Bulgarian authorities to Turkey. Oktay Durukan from Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly fears that many asylum seekers will be arbitrarily denied access to an asylum procedure in these countries and then quickly returned.
“Given the dismal state of the national asylum systems and border practices in Greece and Bulgaria, we are concerned that the Agreement may enable and even encourage violations of the right to asylum in the EU and in our region, which currently is the most important hot spot for irregular arrivals”, Durukan highlighted.
Earlier this year a policy brief by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network had also highlighted that such a readmission agreement risked failing to respect the rights of asylum seekers, as its implementation is carried out by Member States which have very inconsistent approaches when examining protection claims.
Piril Erçoban, from Mülteci-Der, also a member of ECRE, is concerned that “no Turkish court will examine whether [the asylum procedures] were conducted unfairly in an EU country, or if they were conducted at all”, undermining asylum seekers access to international protection.
Both organisations stress that Turkey is overwhelmed by the increasing number of asylum seekers arriving in the country and Durukan fears that this might translate into more restrictive asylum policies in the country. “The worry is that unless the EU sets a much better example, we will struggle convincing Turkey’s political leadership to maintain a protection-sensitive approach to irregular migration and asylum”, he explains.
The agreement will be now sent to the Council of the EU, to the European Parliament, and to the Turkish Grand National Assembly for ratification, and its implementation with begin three years after the ratification. “In the meantime, we will also increase our border security and establish a civilian border protection body”, stated Turkish EU Minister Egemen Bağış.
Turkey has adopted this year a promising new Law on Foreigners and International Protection, however, it remains to be seen how it will be transposed and improve the conditions for migrants and asylum seekers, including the ones being returned to Turkey from the EU.