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Returning economic migrants to Turkey begins – media reaction

Today’s European media provide continued coverage on the refugee crisis, mainly focusing on the fact that the first return of irregular migrants from Greece to Turkey took place yesterday. 202 irregular migrants were affected by this operation, which started under very strict measures and three hours before the initial schedule, Kathimerini notes. In a critical tone, in Libération’s editorial, Maria Malagardis writes that those people are sent back to “the other side of this new Iron Curtain which is clouding the EU’s image”. This first series of returns occurred amid a demonstration of pro-migrant activists on Lesbos, Magyar Nemzet reports.

NGOs and UN agencies are unanimous in talking about a process of “arbitrary collective expulsion”, L’Humanité says. However, BNT cites EC spokesperson Margaritis Schinas saying that there was no unrest, riots oruncivilised events during the action of the first relocation. An EC spokesperson stressed that none of the asylum seekers will be returned to Turkey unless they have fully exercised their rights with regard to the asylum process in Greece, Athina 984 reports. It has been estimated that Greece will need to respond to 2,000 applications per week on average, specifies. The deal’s main goal is to stop or at least slow the illegal movement of those fleeing, Jyllands-Posten notes. The deal’s efficiency is already put into question as despite its implementation yesterday, 339 migrants arrived at the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios, Sole 24 Ore says.

According to Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Stefan Kornelius, the current deal offers the EU the opportunity to gain more influence in Turkey. However, for Marián Repa writing in Pravda, this solution is rather a demonstration of how Europe passes off the burden and responsibility. On I Télé, François Gemenne, researcher at Sciences-Po, shared this view, adding that this migrant deal is neither credible nor durable. According to De Standard’s Thomas Meyer, refugees deserve better than to be treated in this “slipshod way”, while Tageszeitung’s Eric Bonse regrets that Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos had to accept this “dirty deal”. He is currently on a visit in Ankara to discuss the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal with President Erdoğan and other Turkish authorities, Slovenian press report. 

While some NGOs are still criticising Turkey for its controversial treatment of refugees, others are likewise accusing it of deporting migrants back to Syria. Chief of Staff of the German Chancellery Peter Altmaier states in an interview with Tageszeitung that Turkey “has acted more European than some member states”, by taking in many refugees. Nevertheless, Germany will examine whether Turkey is truly deporting Syrian refugees. Moreover, the deal is highly controversial as it is uncertain whether Turkey will be able to live up to international standards concerning the treatment of immigrants, Berlingske Tidende reports.

Some NGOs, mainly led by Amnesty International, even go so far as to report that Turkish border guards fired on refugees seeking to enter the country, killing several of them, L’Humanité notes. In Kronen Zeitung, Christian Hauenstein states that the harsh criticism is not justified and that it is sometimes necessary to make concessions to dubious regimes in politics, calling it realpolitik. With President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan acting as its border police, the EU will become a banana republic in terms of asylum law, Esref Okumus says in Dagens Nyheter

Within the same deal’s framework, the first relocations of Syrian refugees took place in Germany and Finland yesterday. Indeed, European Commission spokesperson Tove Ernst said that 43 Syrians from Turkey were welcomed in Germany and Finland, Sole 24 Ore reports. In an interview with Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, European Commissioner Günter Oettinger expects that “all member states will comply with their commitment to take in refugees”. Indeed, the open door policy cannot function in the conditions that the EU has found itself in after the summer of 2015, i.e. when only a few member states were willing to accommodate refugees, assesses a commentary Delo.

Moreover, the EU committed itself to relocating 72,000 refugees while there are over 3 million of them in Turkey, Soir Première’s Anne Blanpain writes. Therefore, according to an unpublished European Commission paper available to Die Welt, asylum applications will soon no longer be processed at a national level, rather the institution proposes to convert the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) into an agency with decision-making authority and establish branches in each member state. The European Commission will probably present its other proposals for the reform of the Dublin system with some delay this Wednesday.

According to a draft seen by the Financial Times, the EC intends to give two options to member states: the distribution of refugees among all member states according to a fixed quota or the continuation of the current Dublin system in combination with the establishment of a quota system in case of emergency. Turun Sanomat also finds that the EU is not collaborating efficiently enough in the crisis.

A debate also arose in today’s newspapers in regard to EU’s borders. Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva told Der Tagesspiegel that the “new EU member states could make greater contributions” with regard to securing the Union’s external borders, adding that she is confident that Eastern European member states will end their reluctance to take in refugees in the long term. Süddeutsche Zeitung published a recent IFOP survey, according to which 66% of Germans are in favour of cancelling the Schengen Agreement and returning to national border controls, while a majority of Italians and French citizens share the sentiment.

Yesterday, debates at the European Parliament resumed regarding the European Commission’s plans to turn the Frontex agency into a common EU guard of member states’ shores and borders, Radio Romania Actualitati notes. Indeed, EP President Martin Schulz said that a new EU system of asylum and migration is needed, writes Magyar Hírlap. He also added that the EU will not make any concessions to Ankara over basic freedoms and rights, Estonian media say.

Postimees writes that the German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said yesterday that, while the peak of the European refugee crisis may be over, the EU should consider making migration agreements with North African countries to avoid future massive migration flows. Indeed, according to Público’s editorial, until these desperate populations find new ways to reach Europe, European leaders will pretend the problem is solved.


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