18 March agreement obligations will determine the course of the Turkey-EU relations
Earlier this week, President Erdogan held a video conference call with German Chancellor Merkel. Issues that can improve the cooperation between the two sides and regional issues, especially Turkey-EU relations, were discussed at the meeting.
Erdogan stated that they are determined to proceed with a positive agenda in the relations with the EU and that they are hoping to have more technical meetings before the Euro Summit in March 2021. In light of this, he underlined how a fair and constructive attitude towards Turkey is to the advantage of both sides. He also emphasized that the revision of the March 18th deal should be one of the priorities.
Erdoğan also commented that they are expecting to have a Turkey-EU Summit before Portugal’s presidency ends.
IOM calls for end to pushbacks and violence against migrants at EU external borders
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is calling on the European Union (EU) and its Member States to take urgent action to end pushbacks, collective expulsions, and the use of violence against migrants and refugees, including children, at the EU’s external land and maritime borders.
IOM continues to receive documented reports of human rights violations and breaches of international law and its conventions, including the European Convention on Human Rights. Our direct interactions, with migrants – including during the delivery of assistance –, as well as various testimonies and photographs shared by NGOs and the media, confirm the level of brutality they were subjected to before being pushed back across maritime and land borders.
“The use of excessive force and violence against civilians is unjustifiable,” says IOM Chief of Staff Eugenio Ambrosi.
“States’ sovereignty – including their competence to maintain the integrity of their borders – must be aligned with their obligations under international law and respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all.”
Pushbacks and collective expulsions are prohibited under international and EU law, and IOM condemns in the strongest terms the abuse of migrants and refugees at any border.
The Organization welcomes recent investigations initiated by several states and EU bodies into allegations of pushbacks, violations of the principle of nonrefoulement, as well as violence at borders, and stresses that action needs to be taken by states to put an end to these abuses.
The alarming situation at some of the EU’s external borders highlights the need to improve migration and asylum policy and governance, and implement humane and integrated rights-based practices.
IOM welcomes the proposal by the European Commission – set out in the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, currently under negotiation – that EU Member States establish an independent border monitoring mechanism, working closely with the Fundamental Rights Agency, as an effective way to ensure accountability and compliance with international and EU laws.
IOM continues to offer its support to the EU and its Member States on migration governance, including capacity building for rights-based integrated border management that respects the human rights of all migrants.
Signs in Turkey seek to help distressed migrants going to Europe
Thousands of irregular migrants attempt the perilous journey to Europe via Turkey each year, and Turkish authorities are trying prevent the loss of life along the trecherous terrain during winter months.
Migration authorities on Monday placed signboards in six different languages along the Meriç (Evros) River, which marks the Turkish-Greek border, for irregular migrants. Billboards in Turkish, English, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Bengali show the nearest residential facility for migrants lost along the route and feature the number of a hotline designated to assisting migrants.
Musa Aşılıoğlu, the manager of the provincial migration office in northwestern Edirne province, told reporters that Turkey's migration policy sets an example for the rest of the world. "We do not neglect our humane and conscientious responsibilities in dealing with irregular migration. Our purpose is to help migrants facing mishaps, so that we can prevent situations that hurt human conscience,” he said.
Turkey has been a key transit point for asylum-seekers hoping to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution. Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country in the world – nearly 4 million, including some 3.6 million Syrians.
Aşılıoğlu highlighted that Turkey never refused migrants and did not expect other countries "which think using force against migrants is the only way to manage the migration," to understand Turkey's actions.
Greece, a gateway for migrants who arrived in Turkey to cross into Europe, is often accused of illegal "pushbacks" with Greek patrols forcibly returning migrants encroaching on its borders. Migrants have reported being beaten by the Greek authorities, who often hold the travelers at gunpoint before ordering that they return to Turkey across the Meriç. Last year, Ankara opened border crossings into Greece for migrants, in response to the lack of humanitarian and financial aid from the international community to help the displaced people.
Merkel tells Erdogan she welcomes eastern Mediterranean progress
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that she "welcomed the most recent positive signals and developments in the eastern Mediterranean," according to a German government statement released Monday.
In a video conference between the two leaders, Merkel "stressed that it was now important to make progress in dialog."
Erdogan has caused much consternation in the EU by pursuing oil and gas exploration in waters off the coast of Cyprus and Greece, which maintain their sovereignty over the maritime territory.
Turkey initiated oil and gas exploration by sending drilling ships into waters off the island of Cyprus — itself a historical bone of contention between Turkey and Greece — in August 2020. Despite repeated warnings, Ankara has ignored EU calls for it to halt its activities.
In December, EU members voted to impose sanctions on Turkey over its intransigence in the matter. "Regrettably, Turkey has engaged in unilateral actions and provocations and escalated its rhetoric against the EU, EU member states and European leaders,'' read a statement from Brussels at the time.
During the December summit, EU leaders left open the possibility of expanding sanctions beyond individuals to affect much larger segments of the Turkish economy at their next EU leaders' summit, which will take place on March 25-26.
Erdogan brushed off the threat of further sanctions at the time, choosing to stick by his confrontational stance. Still, his words have become less aggressive of late and Merkel has reacted positively to his self-proclaimed desire to "turn the page."
Germany, home to Europe's largest Turkish diaspora, has consistently attempted to mediate between Turkey and the EU on a number of issues. Most notably in regard to keeping together the 2016 refugee deal that the bloc struck with Turkey in which Ankara prevents irregular immigration to Europe in exchange for cash.
Pressure grows on Frontex head after new accusations
The pressure is growing on the head of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) after new accusations of abuses that were deemed "very worrying" by Brussels, as claims on the agency's role in migrant pushbacks from Greek waters toward Turkish waters still await settlement.
The damning reports against Fabrice Leggeri come at a time when the Frontex agency is taking on a greater frontline role in patrolling the European Union's borders.
Migration is a hot-button issue across the EU and a rallying cry for far-right parties that are a rising force in some countries at the ballot box.
Leggeri is in charge of making sure his beefed-up agency can tighten control of Europe's vast frontiers, and he has been given an ever-increasing budget to do so.
But the Frenchman has been the subject of succeeding rounds of accusations both for the methods used to stop migrants as well irregularities in Frontex spending.
The agency is under investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the EU's independent corruption watchdog, over allegations of illegal pushbacks of migrants arriving in Greek waters from Turkey.
Members of the European Parliament and activists have called for Leggeri to resign over the operations, but he has refused to do so, insisting his agency is key to the fight against human trafficking.
"Investigations are underway and it is normal that we have to report to the political authority. We are becoming a police force," Leggeri told France's Europe 1 radio.
The pressure came after media and rights organizations had documented multiple cases of Frontex border officers, alongside national counterparts in EU countries, forcing migrants back, particularly along Greece's sea border with Turkey.
At least six incidents where Frontex units were involved in pushbacks near the islands of Lesbos and Samos between April 28 and Aug. 19 have been documented.
While the border agency is required to rescue migrants, the Frontex vessels patrolling the area sped past the overcrowded, inflatable boats, creating dangerous waves to force them to return to Turkish shores. A Frontex aircraft was also documented passing over migrants, who were seeking help at sea, but did not rescue them.
It was also reported that the German forces participating in the Frontex mission in the Aegean Sea helped the Greek coast guard push migrants back toward Turkish territorial waters during at least one incident.
Turkey and Greece have been key transit points for migrants aiming to cross into Europe, fleeing war and persecution to start new lives. Turkey has also accused Greece of large-scale pushbacks and summary deportations without access to asylum procedures, which is a violation of international law. It also accuses the EU of turning a blind eye to what it says is a blatant abuse of human rights.
Pushbacks are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements, which say people shouldn't be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be in danger due to their race, religion, nationality or membership in a social or political group.
Such actions prevent asylum-seekers from making claims for refugee status, and if practiced indiscriminately against a group of migrants can constitute "refoulement" – a violation of EU human rights laws and the 1951 Geneva Convention.
More worryingly for Leggeri personally are new accusations of spending irregularities and bad treatment of staff.
Documents revealed by several media outlets allegedly show that Frontex has been courted by dozens of defense and tech lobbyists, in violation of EU transparency rules.
This follows other media reports that said the raids on Frontex headquarters by OLAF investigators also turned up accusations of fraud and harassment of staff members.
According to these reports by French daily Liberation and Germany's Der Spiegel, the investigators are looking into, among other things, a contract with a Polish IT service provider, which is said to be tainted by irregularities.
The European commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson, said on Friday that the latest reports were "very concerning" for an agency that is "going to be, by far, the biggest EU agency with a lot of power."
"We need a strong, solid and well-functioning Frontex agency," she told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
With a mandate reinforced in 2019, Frontex is to have 10,000 agents by 2027 who will be directly employed by the agency and no longer seconded to the force by the member states.
The Frontex management board – composed of representatives from member states and the European Commission – has set up a working group to investigate the case.
In an unprecedented move, the agency suspended its operations in Hungary at the end of January, following a European court ruling condemning the country's asylum policy.
Migration statistics update: The impact of COVID-19
Newly available EU data on asylum and irregular border crossings in the first 10 months of 2020 shows the impact of the pandemic on migration to the EU. The EU as a whole registered a 33% year-on-year decrease in asylum applications and a 6-year low in irregular border crossings. However, the impact was not a uniform decrease: several local communities received unexpected large numbers of arrivals, and the overall number of arrivals has continued recovering after a large drop around April.
Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Solidarity has taken on a whole new meaning in the unprecedented actions taken by the European Union to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. That same solidarity now needs to be translated into the field of migration management as well. We can only manage migration well if we do it together – whether migration is high or low. It is high time for an agreement on our proposals for a European migration and asylum policy.”
Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “The pandemic had a significant impact on migration and on migrants themselves who often played a vital role in the EU’s response to COVID-19, while also facing disproportionate risks. While we negotiate the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, Member States need to continue upgrading and reforming their migration management systems. With low arrivals meaning less work for asylum systems, now is a great time to agree on a fair, efficient and resilient way to take responsibility together.”
Updated data on population changes overall, including legal migration which represents a large majority of migration into the EU, will be available later this year. That data is likely to show a large decrease in migration overall due to current restrictions. Data on returns in 2020 will also be available later this year, where a decrease is also anticipated. The Commission aims to provide updates every quarter.
Large decrease in asylum applications
In the first 10 months of 2020, 390,000 asylum applications (including 349,000 first time applications) were lodged in the EU, 33% less than in the same period of 2019. Member States reduced their backlogs of pending asylum cases. At the end of October 2020, the number of pending cases was 786,000, 15% less than at the end of 2019. This still means that on the EU level, the backlog represents more than a year’s worth of new applications – with significant variations between Member States. The recognition rate, or the percentage of asylum applications that resulted in a positive decision at first instance (before any appeals), including decisions granting humanitarian status, stood at 43%.
Irregular border crossings lowest in 6 years, but with significant regional variations
A 10% decrease in the number of irregular border crossings to the EU (114,300 in the period January-November 2020) was observed compared to the same period in 2019, the lowest level in the last 6 years. While there was a significant decrease in irregular arrivals in countries of first entry along the Eastern Mediterranean (-74%, 19,300), the decrease was predominantly due to low arrivals from Turkey to Greece, where the situation is likely to change depending on different factors including political and economic developments in Turkey.
Despite overall reductions, irregular arrivals via the Central Mediterranean (to Italy and Malta) increased (+154%) compared to the same period in 2019. There were over 34,100 such arrivals in 2020, compared to almost 11,500 in 2019, with the majority of people arriving in Lampedusa. With the exception of the month of March, arrivals consistently exceeded 2019 levels.
Arrivals in Spain, and in particular the Canary Islands, significantly increased (+46%, 35,800) in 2020 compared to 2019. In Spain, the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on irregular arrivals was temporary: since August 2020, the number of arrivals to Spain was consistently greater than in 2019.
In both cases, many new arrivals originate from countries suffering from the economic downturn rather than conflict. A decline in global remittances is also likely to contribute to this trend. Until the pandemic is contained and economic recovery is underway, poor prospects of employment and healthcare in countries of origin will remain an incentive for people to come to the EU.
Crossing the Mediterranean Sea remains dangerous. Despite decreased departures in 2020, 1,754 persons were reported dead or missing compared to 2,095 persons in 2019.
In September 2020, the Commission presented the New Pact on Migration and Asylum including a detailed evidence paper which relied on available statistics on migration to Europe to underpin the policy proposals. The Commission published statistics on migration to Europe which will be updated every quarter based on the latest available data from sources including: Eurostat, OECD, UNDESA, UNHCR, IOM and Frontex and EASO.
Data is collected on different schedules. Quarterly data is available on asylum, irregular migration and return, while annual updates are planned for overall population changes (April); visa, employment and worldwide refugee numbers (July); and legal migration as well as the application of ‘Dublin’ asylum rules (October).