News 08 Mar 16

Slovenia First to Implement EU-Turkey Refugee Deal

Following the EU-Turkish deal on refugees reached in Brussels, Slovenia is to start returning so-called irregular migrants from its borders from midnight onwards.

Syrian refugees. Photo: Anadolou Agency

The Serbian Ministry of Interior said Slovenia will not accept any more migrants who attempt to enter its territory without valid visas and passports.

The information, passed to Serbia by counterparts from Croatia on Tuesday, cements the
de-facto closure of the so-called Balkan refugee route.

“Having in mind the new regime imposed by the EU member state, Serbia will not allow itself to become a buffer zone for refugees,” the Serbian ministry said in a statement.

The statement said that Serbia will now adopt the same measures towards its southern and eastern neighbours, Macedonia and Bulgaria.  

The moves come after Turkey and the EU on Monday agreed to stem migration and refugee flows from Turkey to Greece, including the mass return to Turkey of all “irregular migrants” crossing to the Greek islands.

The agreement struck between the EU and Turkey in Brussels opens a path towards solving the refugee crisis in the Balkans - but came at a high price in terms of Turkish demands.

The ultimate test of the deal will also come on March 17-18, when the fine details are hammered out at the European Council. 

The summit in Brussels followed the tightening of borders along the so-called Balkan route, which has already left thousands of migrants stranded in northern Greece.

Amnesty: EU And Turkish Leaders Deal Blow To Right To Seek Asylum

The persistent preoccupation with shipping people back to Turkey instead of making unconditional efforts on resettlement and offering other safe and legal ways to Europe shows an alarmingly short-sighted and inhumane attitude to handling this crisis, Amnesty International said after the European Council talks with Turkey on Monday.

Prime Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoğlu, President of the European Council Donald Tusk and President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker shared the outline of the plan for final agreement between the EU and Turkey, in advance of the European Council meeting on 17 and 18 March.

The proposal that for every Syrian refugee returned to Turkey from Greece, a Syrian will be settled within the EU is wrought with moral and legal flaws, Amnesty said.

Unsettlingly, this plan would make every resettlement place offered to a Syrian in the EU contingent upon another Syrian risking their life by embarking on the deadly sea route to Greece.

“EU and Turkish leaders have today sunk to a new low, effectively horse trading away the rights and dignity of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The idea of bartering refugees for refugees is not only dangerously dehumanising, but also offers no sustainable long term solution to the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” said Iverna McGowan, head of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.


Heavy rain has added to their woes and has prompted warnings of a looming humanitarian crisis.

Greek officials believe another 100,000 arrivals are about to reach Greek shores by the end of March.

"We agreed that despite good implementation of the Joint Action Plan on migration, the flow of migrants passing from Turkey to Greece remains much too high and needs to be brought down significantly. I am happy that we have a common understanding with [Turkish] Prime Minister Davutoğ as to achieve concrete results on the ground within days," European Council President Donald Tusk said after the meeting.

Exact details of the deal are not yet finessed but Davutoglu's shopping list included much more money from the EU to take back rejected asylum seekers from Europe, visa liberalization for Turkish nationals and accelerated talks on Turkey's long-stalled EU membership bid.

The EU immediately doubled its financial aid package to 6 billion euro in exchange for Turkey agreeing to keep refugees on its soil and take back rejected aylum claimants.

However, some Eastern European countries are threatening to sink the agreement, as they still oppose the plan to resettle migrants directly to European states from Turkey under fixed quotas.

"PM #Orban has vetoed EU-Turkey plan to relocate asylum seekers directly from Turkey," the spokesman of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban wrote on Twitter.

Turkey says its stiff demands are fair given that the country has already given shelter to almost 3 million refugees from the Middle East.

The tide of people fleeing the wars in Syria and Iraq is not likely to stop soon, as Greek authorities said that up to 2,000 refugees continue to arrive on the Greek islands daily.

“With these new proposals we aim to rescue refugees, discourage those who misuse and exploit their situation and find a new era in Turkey-EU relations," Davutoglu said in Brussels.

However, he told European leaders that Turkey wanted more for its citizens in exchange for helping the EU out of the crisis.

Davutoglu also met NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and requested "a more visible NATO presence" on the Turkey-Syria border. 

Many human rights organisations criticised the deal reached in Brussels, claiming it violated asylum seekers' rights.

Filippo Grandi, head of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, told members of the European Parliament on Tuesday that he was "deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law.

"There are no humanitarian solutions to the intractable wars, the upsurge in violence and the oppression and lack of governance in many parts of the world," he said.

"We need political leadership and action, both to resolve the conflicts that cause displacement and to make sure that people...can find the protection and safety they need, without having to resort to criminal networks and smugglers who abuse and exploit them," Grandi added.

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