• Silvia Naydenova

Migration Crisis 2.0

Protesters take part in a rally in the port of Mytilene, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Local residents and business owners have launched a day of protest on the Greek islands hardest hit by migration, demanding the Greek government ease severe overcrowding at refugee camps. (AP Photo/Aggelos Barai)The Associated Press

In the period 2013-2015, the European Union (EU) experienced its most impactful crisis so far. The peak of the crisis was in 2015 when over 1.8 million people crossed the borders of the EU irregularly.[1] This unprecedented number of refugees led to the securitisation[1] of the Migration Crisis by the EU and its institutions and the adoption of emergency measures, to control migration flows, protect the borders of the EU and effectively manage migrants and their integration. The EU has focused on applying a geographically motivated migration policy, one which has externalised the protection of the European borders, handling of asylum applications, relocation, or temporary refuge for illegal immigrants, to the first-in-line transit countries. In this respect, together with Italy, the Western Balkans have become a key ‘transit sphere’, but also a ‘safe’ space for asylum seekers and an instrument for effective control of irregular migration.[2] This externalisation policy is based on the EU legal framework for asylum, and specifically on the Dublin III Regulation (predecessors: Dublin I, 2000; Dublin II, 2003).[3] Consequently, this has created immense pressure on these states, their borders, economies and societies. In return for these efforts, the EU has been allocating financial and policing assistance, motivated by the enticing idea that such a ‘mutually advantageous’ relationship between itself and the already overburdened frontline states will truly work for both sides. However, this is not the case.

In 2019, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad renewed his military offensive in Idlib Province, which gave rise not only to rapidly worsening conditions and the increased insecurity of people in the region but also to a second migration flow towards the border of Turkey.[4] The influx was further enhanced by Ankara’s decision, in late February 2020, to open its borders and thus allow migrants to enter the bloc through its territory.[5] After this announcement, coupled with continued tensions in the Middle East, an estimated 80 000 more refugees were expected to head to the Turkish border in a bid to find safety and welfare.[6] This situation created a second influx of migrants and increased pressure on the borders between Turkey and Greece and highlighted dangerous mishandling of migration policies and grave human rights abuses from both sides.

What has become a recent point of controversy and verification of the ineffectiveness of EU Migration Policy is the EU-Turkey statement, which came into force on 18th March 2016. The agreement aimed to successfully ‘curb’ the migration flow to Turkey, but also to alleviate the pressure on Greece, by relocating refugees. According to the statement, there were a few crucial measures to be implemented - a resettlement scheme, acceleration of the visa liberalisation process for Turkey, re-energised accession negotiations and a financial support package of 6 billion EUR, delivered by the end of 2018.[7] This was a typical example of the EU’s externalisation of border management, the effect of which was anticipated.

On the one hand, Ankara was responsible for securing its borders and decreasing irregular migration crossings to Europe. Another key part of this settlement was that Turkey would also be mandated to readmit illegal migrants who had passed through Turkish territory to Greece after 20 March 2016. The document also introduced the famous one-for-one scheme, which proposed that for every refugee, arriving illegally in Greece, one would be transferred back to Turkey and in return, one would be given asylum in European member states. Although each side showed an initial commitment to the agreement, several issues occurred in the implementation process.

Firstly, according to a recent analysis, Greece managed to return 1,908 irregular migrants to Turkey, in return for which 25,000 were rehoused within the 27-member bloc, not nearly amounting to the initially promised 75,000 upper limits.[8] Aside from the fact that EU hasn’t fully committed to the deal, various international organisations have scrutinised whether Turkey can qualify as a safe third country, to which refugees can be returned, as is legally required by the Asylum Procedures Directive (Article 38). One of the main reasons is that Turkey has not been fully committed to the UN Refugee Convention and practices laws fitted for its geographical location, which do not provide refugee status to migrants arriving from non-EU countries and only subsidiary protection for those not qualified for refugee status.[9] Moreover, events such as the 2016 coup d'état attempt and the allegation that Turkey has been illegally returning migrants to Syria, are deemed serious reasons not to consider the country safe.[10] For this reason, many human rights organisations have been opposed to the return of refugees to Turkey as part of the 2016 Settlement.

Secondly, in March 2020, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced that Greece will be suspending asylum applications for a month,[11] which was immediately deemed unlawful by the UN, according to its legal documents. [12] More importantly, according to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 18), the rights to asylum must be guaranteed based on the 1951 Geneva Convention and the Treaties of the EU, and not refused without due process.[13]

Similarly, many other serious offences have been documented within reports and media, such as illegal expulsion, compulsory detention, denial of access to information or attorneys, which can be considered violations under the 1951 Geneva Convention (Article 32 and 33)[14] and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 18). Consequently, we can see that what began as a substantial policy initiative to alleviate pressure and effectively control migration flows, became a failed test for the EU.

What is more dangerous, however, is that diplomatic and policy games often affect the most vulnerable, which is observed in the recent peak of unregulated violence on the border between Greece and Turkey. Given Ankara’s decision in February 2020, fueled by the rising migration flow towards the state, there have been disturbing displays of violence and human rights abuse. Both countries have suspended the application and enforcement of international treaties, including the agreements with the EU, and are conducting their migration transfer operations. On one hand, Turkey has been repeatedly monitored to push migrants towards Greece.[15] On the other hand, many international organisations and media outlets have conducted field investigations and interviews, which demonstrate that Greece is violently pushing back and illegally deporting refugees to Turkey.

A recent joint investigation between DW, the Dutch news publication Trouw, media nonprofit Lighthouse Reports, and Bellingcat,[16] shows astounding findings. According to inquiries, Greece has put in place an active mechanism for pushing back migrants through the Evros border. Refugees are reported to be taken by Greek police (most times without uniforms, so reports can not verify whether they are truly Greek authorities), with the promise to be offered official documents and allowed passage to Europe; they are then forced into white vans, beaten and deprived of their money, phone, even clothes and transferred secretly to Turkey through the Evros river. Investigations have created a database (Border Violence Monitoring Network) that reports over five police raids carried out in Diavata camp between March 31 and May 5, resulting in the seemingly illegal deportation of dozens of migrants.[17] Also, a March report from Human Rights Watch has indicated that there many other violations such as stripping of the migrants’ clothes and sexual assault over women, illegal detainment, as well as firing tear gas, rubber bullets and even live ammunition, at refugees attempting to cross the Greek border at Pazarkule.[18]

The legal basis of the EU asylum policies has put in place strict recommendations for handling migration and border security. On the one hand, the EU is considered an area of freedom, security and justice with respect for fundamental rights and the different legal systems and traditions of the Member States.[19] This, and the above-mentioned arguments, show that the EU is responsible for maintaining the security and the fundamental rights within the bloc, including these of migrants, which are residing on its territory. Moreover, the Returns Directive postulates that the EU must return illegal migrants in a humane way and with respect to their fundamental rights.[20] However, the EU agency FRONTEX is not allowed to conduct investigations of human rights violations whether on borders of the EU or asylum camps, this is the responsibility of the member states (in this case Greece).[21] Therefore, where a member state may violate EU law, the EU Commission may start infringement proceedings.[22] However, no such proceedings have been started against Greece and the last Annual Report on the Implementation of EU Law is from 2018.[23] If we are to see any legal proceedings against the actions of Greece or Turkey, they would undoubtedly have an effect much later in the year.

Greek authorities have denied any allegations and have not commented on the investigations conducted so far. Similarly, the European Union has not commented on the situation openly, despite their actions indicating that they are actively supporting Greek police through border forces such as FRONTEX. The numerous protests and calls from human rights organisations have not resulted in a guarantee for an EU investigation or legal proceedings into the occurrences in Greece, which is highly recommended. In the face of such serious allegations, the EU must uphold its principles of peace, democracy and protection, which are foundational to its existence and most importantly to strictly follow International Law to provide truly safe passage for refugees and humane treatment for irregular migrants.

On the other hand, the situation in Greece and Turkey is providing insight into major fractures in EU Migration Policy. The 2020 Migration Crisis has reaffirmed that, despite EU financial support, the externalisation of responsibility for migration control to the frontline states is clashing with the inability of the latter to contain such pressure. This pushes states to resort to emergency security actions to regulate migration and protect their national interest, which has come at the expanse of the human security of refugees. Respectively, EU institutions are losing their grip over their political expectation and what other member states are willing to do for the interests of the whole of the European community. The EU is once again confronted with the repercussions of some of its misguided assumptions, rather than looking at the reality of the Migration Crisis and relying on mutual responsibility in the face of mutual problems.


[1] Securitization is the act of presenting a security issue as an existential threat, which requires emergency measures.

[1] Council of the European Union, “Infographic - Irregular arrivals to the EU, 2008-2020”, 11 May, 2020, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/infographics/irregular-arrivals-since-2008/

[2] Ferruccio Pastore, “From Source to Corridor: Changing Geopolitical

Narratives about Migration and EU-Western Balkans Relations”, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern

Studies (November 2018):3

[3] ‘Council Directive 2008/115/Ec on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-countrynationals’, Official Journal of the European Union L 348 (2008), p.98

[4] Yee, Vivian, and Hwaida Saad. “Syrian Offensive Sends Tens of Thousands Fleeing.” The New York Times. The New York Times, December 23, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/23/world/middleeast/syria-idlib-russia-aid-refugees.html.

[5] Jones, Dorian. “Inside Europe: Turkey Opens Border for Migrants: DW: 06.03.2020.” DW.COM, March 6, 2020. https://www.dw.com/en/inside-europe-turkey-opens-border-for-migrants/av-52651447.

[6] Yee, Vivian, and Hwaida Saad. “Syrian Offensive Sends Tens of Thousands Fleeing.” The New York Times. The New York Times, December 23, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/23/world/middleeast/syria-idlib-russia-aid-refugees.html.

[7] “EU-Turkey Statement, 18 March 2016.” Consilium, March 18, 2016. https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/03/18/eu-turkey-statement/.

[8] Rankin, Jennifer. “EU Strikes Deal with Turkey to Send Back Refugees.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, March 18, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/18/eu-strikes-deal-with-turkey-to-send-back-refugees-from-greece.

[9] “Introduction to the Asylum Context in Turkey.” Introduction to the asylum context in Turkey - Turkey | Asylum Information Database. Accessed May 25, 2020. https://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/turkey/introduction-asylum-context-turkey.

[10] Kingsley, Patrick. “Refugee Crisis: What Does the EU's Deal with Turkey Mean?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, March 18, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/18/eu-deal-turkey-migrants-refugees-q-and-a.

[11] “Greece Suspends Asylum Applications as Migrants Seek to Leave Turkey.” BBC News. BBC, March 1, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-51695468.

[12] “U.N. Says Greece Has No Right to Stop Accepting Asylum Requests.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, March 2, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-security-greece-un/u-n-says-greece-has-no-right-to-stop-accepting-asylum-requests-idUSKBN20P2BH.

[13] “Article 18 - Right to Asylum.” European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, April 30, 2020. https://fra.europa.eu/en/eu-charter/article/18-right-asylum#TabNational.

[14] United Nations. “Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.” UNHCR. UNHCRCommunications and Public Information Service, December 2010. https://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.

[15] Stevis-gridneff, Matina, and Patrick Kingsley. “Turkey, Pressing E.U. for Help in Syria, Threatens to Open Borders to Refugees.” The New York Times. The New York Times, February 28, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/28/world/europe/turkey-refugees-Geece-erdogan.html?fbclid=IwAR1afqEwybtLK99-Sn9Qy6iugtVV1zDs7SJ7UwYaGasLDK8QkyCKrrU_HmA.

[16] The investigation is published on the 21 May 2020.

[17] “Migrants Say Greece Is Conducting Illegal Deportations.” InfoMigrants. Infomigrants, May 22, 2020. https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/24892/migrants-say-greece-is-conducting-illegal-deportations.

[18] “Greece: Violence Against Asylum Seekers at Border.” Human Rights Watch, March 17, 2020. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/17/greece-violence-against-asylum-seekers-border. Additional sources: “Greece/Turkey: Asylum-Seekers and Migrants Killed and Abused at Borders.” Amnesty International, April 3, 2020. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/greece-turkey-asylum-seekers-and-migrants-killed-and-abused-at-borders/.; “Greece Forcibly Pushes Asylum-Seekers Back to Turkey, Migrants and Activists Say.” Daily Sabah. Daily Sabah, May 21, 2020. https://www.dailysabah.com/politics/eu-affairs/greece-forcibly-pushes-asylum-seekers-back-to-turkey-migrants-and-activists-say.;

[19] ‘Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union’, Official Journal C 326 (2012)

[20] ‘Council Directive 2008/115/Ec on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-countrynationals’, Official Journal of the European Union L 348 (2008), p.98

[21] Fundamental Rights at Frontex. Accessed May 25, 2020. https://frontex.europa.eu/fundamental-rights/fundamental-rights-at-frontex/.

[22] “Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).” European Union, March 26, 2020. https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/institutions-bodies/court-justice_en.

[23] “Infringement Decisions.” European Commission . Accessed May 25, 2020. https://ec.europa.eu/atwork/applying-eu-law/infringements-proceedings/infringement_decisions/index.cfm?lang_code=EN&typeOfSearch=false&active_only=0&noncom=0&r_dossier=&decision_date_from=&decision_date_to=&title=&submit=Search.