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European Union/Turkey: Cooperation to Manage the Migrant Crisis

(Oct. 16, 2015) On October 4, 2015, the European Union and Turkey agreed on a Draft Action Plan to increase cooperation and coordinate their actions on the refugee crisis, and to reduce the huge flow of immigrants who enter the EU through Turkey. The Draft Action Plan contains short- and long-term measures to tackle the refugee crisis. Its twin objectives are to support the refugees and their host communities in Turkey and to boost cooperation to reduce migratory flows from Turkey. (Press Release, European Commission, Draft Action Plan: Stepping Up EU-Turkey Cooperation on Support of Refugees and Migration Management in View of the Situation in Syria and Iraq (Draft Action Plan) (Oct. 6, 2015), EUROPA.)

On October 6, 2015, following the conclusion of the Draft Action, Jean Paul Juncker, the President of the European Commission, stated in the European Parliament, “[T]he EU stands ready to further step up help for Turkey to improve reception facilities for refugees and improve their wellbeing. In the refugee crisis, Turkey and the EU walk together and work together.” (Press Release, European Commission, EU-Turkey: Draft Action Plan on Support of Refugees and Migration Management (Oct. 6, 2015), EUROPA.)

Supporting the Refugees 

To date Turkey has provided a significant amount of humanitarian assistance, amounting to nearly €6.7 billion (about US$7.65 billion), to refugees coming from Syria and Iraq. The number of refugees who have reached Turkey is now about 2.2 million. (Draft Action Plan, supra.)

For its part, in the Draft Action Plan the EU has assumed a number of obligations, including:

  • providing an additional €1 billion (about US$1.14 billion) for the period 2015-2016 to help Turkey handle the challenges it faces. Certain activities will be given high priority, such as humanitarian assistance; offers of legal, administrative, and psychological support; and measures related to employment and education of refugees;
  • providing Turkey additional funds from the EU Regional Trust Fund for Syria and Iraq;
  • continuing assistance to Syrian refugees who are in Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq and to Syrians who are internally displaced, in order to eliminate the “push factors” such as internal conflict, poverty, and civil war that force people to leave their countries; and
  • supporting resettlement schemes and programs in the EU and its Member States, with the objective of assisting refugees located in Turkey to enter the EU in a regulated and efficient way. (Id.)

For its part, Turkey assumed a number of responsibilities, including:

  • implementing its laws on foreigners and those in need of international protection through the adoption of regulatory legislation;
  • ensuring that migrants are registered and given appropriate documents;
  • ensuring that asylum requests, once they are recognized, are completed within a short time; and
  • implementing policies to assist refugees to integrate into society and to promptly identify and provide care for vulnerable people, such as children or victims of trafficking. (Id.) 

Cooperation to Prevent Illegal Migration

The two parties agreed to apply measures towards a visa liberalization dialogue, and the readmission agreement between Turkey and the EU. (Id.) The visa-free regime with Turkey presupposes, inter alia, the full implementation of the readmission agreement, which entered into force on October 1, 2014, and provides for the return of each party’s nationals who reside illegally in the EU or Turkey to their respective countries. (Press Release, European Commission, Statement of Commissioner Malmström on the Entry into Force of the Readmission Agreement between Turkey and the EU, (Oct. 1, 2014), EUROPA http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-14-285_en.htm.)

The EU undertook the obligation to inform the refugees about applicable procedures for entering the EU and other countries in an orderly way, to assist Turkey in fighting smuggling of migrants and to improve the capacity of the Turkish Coast Guard, and to improve cooperation between Turkey and the EU in their joint operations to return those who do not qualify as refugees to their countries of origin. (Draft Action Plan, supra.)

Turkey assumed the responsibility to improve the capacity of the Turkish Coast Guard and to improve the cooperation between the Turkish and the Greek Coast Guards. In addition, Turkey undertook to increase its cooperation with the Bulgarian and Greek authorities to prohibit illegal migration and to fight the illegal networks that engage in smuggling migrants. Further details of the Draft Action Plan will be finalized in the near future. (Id.)