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Is the EU-Turkey migration agreement seaworthy?

Today’s European newspapers continue to provide wide coverage on the evolution of the migrant crisis, mainly focusing on the publication of the first report on the state of implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement on migration. “We have already seen a sharp drop in the number of people crossing irregularly the Aegean from Turkey into Greece, which means the activities of smugglers in the area have been hit”, Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said, as quoted by Kathimerini.

He characterised as satisfactory the progress made thanks to the agreement while underlying that Greece needs to intensify its efforts to improve conditions in the country, while member states must step up theirs with regards to relocation, ERT1 says. Commissioner Avramopoulos added that €1.5 billion are available to the Turkish authorities, reports Sky TG. According the EC First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, 70% of the 50,000 refugees in Greece today are eligible for relocation, Naftemporiki specifies.

This first report revealed that Greece has thus far sent back 325 illegal migrants to Turkey, Il Sole 24 Ore notes. Moreover, Mr Timmermans said there has been a sharp decrease in irregular arrivals since the deal was sealed, as in the three weeks after 20 March, 5,847 migrants arrived in Greece compared to 26,878 in the three weeks prior, the Wall Street Journal Europe and Magyar Hírlap say. Indeed, even though the number of migrant arrivals has fallen since the agreement, the statistics of the past few weeks still show that arrivals are still far greater than those being sent back,Postimees writes. According to Commissioner Avramopoulos as quoted by Salzburger Nachrichten, “the situation in Greece is not as bad as it used to be. The hotspot centres work, and the registration of refugees proceeds as usual”.

However, the planned target of 6,000 regular relocations per month is still far away, he added. In a cynical tone, Večernji list reports that Pope Francis relocated more refugees than sixteen member states managed to relocate in more than seven months. On CyBC TV, Brussels correspondent Thanos Athanasiou specified that Commissioner Avramopoulos echoed President Juncker, who clarified that the visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens will not be granted to Turkey unless all technical benchmarks are met. If Turkey meets them, the European Commission will propose on May 4 to grant visa-free travel to Turks from the end of June, Cyprus Mail and Ziniu Radijas write.

An editorial in the Express argues it would be a “dangerous development” to give visa-free travel to Turkish citizens, suggesting that not only would such a move represent an opportunity for Turkish politicians to push for greater integration, but it would also put Britain at risk from increased immigration from Turkey. Haberturk quotes Turkish Prime Minister Davutoğlu as saying that “readmission agreement and visa exemption are one package together”.

Regarding the deal in itself, the Council of Europe published a report criticising it, saying that at worst it exceeds the limits of what is permissible under international law, writes. The report lists numerous concerns on human rights, from keeping migrants in overcrowded and insanitary detention centres on the Greek islands to inadequate legal protection for people seeking to appeal against rejection of an asylum claim. In Libération, a migration expert also strongly criticises the EU-Turkey deal, arguing that it brings no “human or humanitarian” solution to the problem. Regarding the situation in Greece, the Medical Association of Athens asked for immediate measures in order to protect public health, noting that the health of refugees and migrants is in danger.

The EC Representation in Greece took the initiative to carry out a pan-European move to show solidarity; employees of the EU institutions are supporting the #EUstaff4Refugees movement, aimed at collecting goods and money for refugees, reports. What is more, there are still some reactions to the drowning of hundreds of people in the Mediterranean Sea this weekend. The Minister for Home Affairs and National Security of Malta, Carmelo Abela, has expressed his shock and sadness, stating that “this tragedy is yet another horrific blemish on Europe’s collective conscience”, the Malta Independent reports. The United Nations refugee agency said yesterday that 500 people might have died, basing its findings on interviews with 41 survivors, the International New York Times notes.

Moreover, “hundred thousands of people” may be waiting in Libya to come to Europe, European officials recently declared, La Croix reports. In an interview on Europe 1, Pierre Henry, director general of NGO France Terre d’Asile, said that in the migratory crisis, Europe “does not exist” and even “lost its dignity”. Finally, Corriere della Sera notes that on June 28, the European Commission is due to discuss how to finance the prevention of new waves of migrants. Several Italian media report that Italy’s proposal for a so-called “Migrant Compact” is expected to be discussed there.

A report by Eurostat cited by website Dnevnik underlines that EU member states granted asylum to a total of 333,350 people in 2015; an increase of 72% in the number of approved applications compared to 2014. Some articles continue to focus on the quotas issue, with Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė saying, in an interview with Handelsblatt, that “Lithuania believes in a system based on solidarity, not mandatory quotas”. Security analyst Miloš Balabán in Právo stresses the importance of cooperation with countries in North Africa in order to solve the migrant crisis and adds that the EU should rather focus on protection of its outer border than on refugee quotas.

In La Libre Belgique, Laetitia Tran Ngoc of the Ethiopian embassy in Brussels writes that the cooperation between the EU and Africa is a long-term solution to the migration crisis. Indeed, according to De Standaard, the refugee problem is not over yet, and the focus should entirely turn to Libya now.  Moreover, the EC is also negotiating with the government in Kabul in the hopes that 80,000 asylum-seekers can be sent back from Europe to Afghanistan in the near future, reports Erik Magnusson for Landskrona Posten.



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