Over one million migrants have traversed the Aegean Sea from Turkey
to Greece since January 2015, and over 4,000 of those migrants drowned or went missing on
their dangerous trek toward a better life. The European Union (EU),
seeing the effects of this massive influx, has struggled to find its role in
aiding migrants and reducing the number of refugees flooding in.
Under the new EU-Turkey Agreement (The Agreement), all illegal migrants
arriving in the EU from Turkey will be returned. The European Union has marketed this agreement as one that will ultimately protect migrants from “putting their lives at risk”
on the journey to Europe by implementing three major
initiatives: (1) returning illegal migrants crossing from Turkey into Greece; (2)
one to one resettlement in the EU from Turkey for every illegal Syrian refugee
returned to Turkey; and (3) accelerated EU funds released to Turkey to better
manage the migration crisis. Despite these separate initiatives,
the core of the Agreement is the return of illegal migrants back to Turkey in
an effort to facilitate greater stability in the EU and halt the burgeoning
smuggling market. The Agreement took effect on March 20, 2016.
Syrian and Iraqi immigrants getting off a boat from Turkey on the
Greek island of Lesbos. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Before the Agreement, migrant conditions were already poor as
thousands of migrants piled into overcrowded camps along the Greek border. Since the Agreement took
effect, however, bleak migrant conditions took a turn for the worse.  Rather than being taken to border refugee camps, refugees are being
funneled into detention camps that are more reminiscent of jails with their concrete walls and barbed wire. Now, all refugees
arriving in Greece are put under police guard. Consequently, several
prominent non-governmental organizations–including the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (“UNCHR”), Médecins Sans Frontières (“Doctors Without
Borders”), the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children, and the
Norwegian Refugee Council–have stopped operations in Greece in protest to the
detention and deportation procedures of the Agreement.
Amid the growing international law concerns, the Agreement has
successfully decreased migrant inflows. The number of migrants flowing into
Greece has steadily decreased and even included one day with no new migrant
arrivals. As a safeguard, the EU pledged thousands of staff workers to help Greece
meander the migrant crisis according to international law. The EU pledged
roughly 4,000 staff members to help Greece effectively implement the deal. Thousands of staffers, including
judges, migration officers, asylum experts, interpreters, and border patrols, began
arriving on March 28, 2016 to process roughly 47,500 migrants still stuck in
Even still, the UNCHR highlighted the lack of safeguards to
protect migrant rights as they are being rapidly processed out of Greece. Consequently the UNCHR
halted operations in some Greek migrant centers because the new agreement
essentially transformed registering centers into detention facilities.
Complying with International
Though the EU is touting migrant safety as a primary concern for
the Agreement, the implications could violate international law, despite several
safeguards ensuring that the return mechanisms are legal. Under the European Convention on Human Rights, the “collective expulsion of aliens is prohibited.” Additionally, in 2008,
the EU issued a Directive on Common Standards and Procedures in Member States
for Returning Illegally Staying Third-Country Nationals to clarify the legal
standards for returning illegal migrants. The Directive stated that
immigration decisions regarding illegal migrants should be addressed on a
case-by-case basis and should be based on more than the migrant’s illegal
entry. The Directive also
addresses how procedures should be adapted in emergency situations, stating
that procedural and legal standards do not cease in times of crisis because member
countries still have international law obligations and should follow procedural
safeguards to protect migrant rights in emergencies. The automatic return of
migrants to Turkey under the EU-Turkey Agreement may violate the prohibition on
collective expulsion of aliens and the Directive’s requirements that cases be
addressed individually, rather than deciding the cases solely on the basis of
The Agreement does attempt to recognize these potential international law
pitfalls and is assuring that every case will be treated individually to comply
with international law. Yet, despite this recognition, the Agreement also creates a caveat for “certain
circumstances” in which “there is no need to examine the substance of the
application.” The EU, therefore, must be careful in its administration of the Agreement, as
this caveat could become a blanket exclusion contravening the European
Declaration on Human Rights.
Going forward, the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal should
be monitored to ensure its compliance with international law. The EU must be
careful that its ultimate goal of curbing the migrant influx through mass
deportation does not overshadow its obligation under international law to
respect migrants’ rights.
More Than One Million Refugees Travel to
Greece Since 2015, U.N. High Comm’n for Refugees (Mar. 16, 2016), http://www.unhcr.org/56e9821b6.html [https://perma.cc/ECM8-4HGH].
Emergency Response – Mediterranean, U.N. High Comm'n for Refugees, http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/country.php?id=83
Agreement: Questions and Answers,
Comm’n (Mar. 19, 2016), http://europa.eu/ rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-963_en.htm
EU-Turkey Statement, 18 March 2016,
Eur. Council (Mar. 18, 2016), http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/03/18-eu-turkey-statement/ [https://perma.cc/N3TM-82QZ].
 Comm. from the Comm’n
to the Eur. Parl., the Eur. Council and the Council, Next Operational Steps in EU-Turkey Cooperation in the Field of
Migration, Eur. Comm’n 1, 2–6 (2016), https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2016/EN/1-2016-166-EN-F1-1.PDF
Statement, 18 March 2016, supra note 4. Since 2015, smugglers have capitalized on the refugee
crisis by charging refugees to cross into the EU. EU-Turkey Statement, 18 March
2016, supra note 4.
Commission, supra note 5, at 2–6.
See Derek Gatopoulos & Lorne Cook, Greece Sets up Detention Camps as Refugee
Deal Hits Delays, ABC News (Mar.
21, 2016), http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/turkish-monitors-arrive-greek-islands-migrant-deal-37806112
 Kerin Hope, Contrast
of two migrant camps highlights effect of Turkey-EU deal, Financial Times (Mar. 27, 2016), http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/14f9b53c-f28a-11e5-9f20-c3a047354386.html#axzz44E5DNgjB
 Oscar Webb &
Martin Banks, Migrant crisis: Chaos on
Greek islands as aid workers quit refugee camps in protest, Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/greece/12205489/Migrant-crisis-Chaos-on-Greek-islands-as-aid-workers-quit-refugee-camps-in-protest.html [https://perma.cc/B8N8-WWK8].
 Stelios Bouras, Greece
Sees a Lull in Migrant Inflows, Wall St. J. (Mar.
24, 2016), http://www.wsj.com/articles/greece-says-no-migrants-arrived-in-last-24-hours-1458830986
Agreement, supra note 3.
staff arrive on Greek islands to start repatriation, EU
Today (Mar. 28, 2016), http://eutoday.net/news/eu-staff-arrive-on-greek-islands-to-start-repatriation
redefines role in Greece as EU-Turkey deal comes, U.N.
High Comm’n for Refugees (Mar.
22, 2016), http://www.unhcr.org/56f10d049.html
 Convention for
the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms art. 4, Nov. 4, 1950,
213 U.N.T.S. 221. In the EU alien is defined as “a
person who is not a citizen of a EU country.” EU Immigration Portal Glossary, Eur. Comm’n, http://ec.europa.eu/immigration/glossary_en
Commission, supra note 5.
2008/115 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on
Common Standards and Procedures in Member States for Returning Illegally
Staying Third-country Nationals, 2008 O.J. (L 348) 98, 98–100.
Commission, supra note 5, at 2.
Commission, supra note 5, at 2.
Posted by Keturah T. Reed on Thu. March 31, 2016 9:00 PM
European Union, Refugees/Asylum, Reports (longer, analytical blog posts)