The Tentative EU-Turkey Agreement on Migrants is Holding – For NowApril 8, 2016 in Migration
On April 8, the recent EU-Turkey agreement on migration achieved a modest milestone. Two ferries carried over 120 migrants from the Greek island of Lesbos to the Turkish mainland. Earlier this week, on April 4, two ferries carried 202 migrants from the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios to Turkey. That same day, 32 Syrian migrants travelled from Turkey to Germany. Of the deportations conducted thus far, a large portion have been migrants of Pakistani, Afghan or North African origin. The migrants travelling officially from Turkey to Europe have mainly been Syrian nationals. If this practice continues, it will address the long-standing complaint by many European politicians that many of the arriving migrants were not legitimate refugees from conflict zones.
Despite these successes, Europe’s migration-related challenges are far from over. There have been reports that nearly one third of the 52,000 migrants in Greece have not moved to the newly designated processing facilities. Large numbers of migrants remain living in unofficial, makeshift camps near the port of Piraeus and at the northern border with Macedonia. The Greek Government has issued an ultimatum requiring the migrants living near Pireaus to disperse within two weeks or be removed by force. It remains unclear how exactly such dispersals would take place without violent protests. As recently as April 1, 8 people were injured during a clash at one of the migrant camps near Pireaus.
For the EU-Turkey agreement to ultimately be successful, it will require careful coordination and sustained support for the Greek Government. Greek officials have criticized that support for being slow to arrive. Earlier this week, there were numerous complaints that less than half of the 2300 Frontex personnel (the EU’s border agency) had been deployed as promised.
There have also been continued divisions regarding proposed reforms to the EU’s asylum system. The European Commission had argued that the Dublin placed incredible stress on Italy and Greece by requiring migrants to claim asylum in the first EU country they reach. One proposal would be the creation of a permanent fairness mechanism to redistribute asylum seekers throughout the European Union away from the frontline countries bordering the Mediterranean. Other potential reform policies include legal penalties against irregular movement by non-EU nationals or a central distribution system that allocate asylum claimants though a comprehensive quota scheme. However, the Czech Republic and United Kingdom have both officially announced their opposition to any major reform of the current policy. As anti-migrant sentiment continues to grow across Europe, any of the proposed reforms could prove highly controversial and difficult to implement. Despite the initial successes of the EU-Turkey deal, a truly long term solution to the migrant crisis remains elusive.