Suspension of EU-Turkey Deal and Mass Deportations from Turkey

Turkey started mass expulsion of Syrians and at the same time refuses to take back migrants from Greece under the EU-Turkey readmission deal.

Suspension of the EU-Turkey Deal

Turkey announced that the EU-Turkey Deal has been suspended. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu explained on Monday 22nd in a TV-interview:  “We will not wait at the EU’s door. The readmission agreement and visa-free deal will be put into effect at the same time”. (see also article by Are you Syrious?)

The visa liberalisation for Turkish citizen in the EU was part of the initial EU-Turkey statement from March 18, 2016 where it was agreed: “The fulfilment of the visa liberalisation roadmap will be accelerated vis-à-vis all participating Member States with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016, provided that all benchmarks have been met.”

It is not the first time that Turkey puts pressure on the EU and Greece using the readmission scheme for bargaining. In June 2018, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu declared to have suspended the bilateral migrant readmission agreement with Greece – another deportation agreement – in response to a Greek court’s decision to release eight soldiers, who had fled Turkey in July 2016 after the coup attempt, instead of extraditing them to Turkey.

Since the EU-Turkey Deal came into force, 2,492 people have been deported from Greece to Turkey (2,406 people until end of 2018 and 86 people in 2019). Deportation Monitoring Aegean witnessed the last deportation on July 11th – an indication that the deportations have now been suspended in practice.

Arrests and Mass Deportations in Turkey

After the deportations, all non-Syrian people are detained in removal prisons in the so-called “safe third country” Turkey. The conditions within the removal centres have been criticized as unbearable. Lawyers reported several incidents of torture in the Harmandalı removal centre close to Izmir, most recently the abuse of a woman in July 2019. A complaint was filed before the Karşıyaka Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. Harmandalı is one of the centres established with EU-funding following the EU-Turkey statement.

The chances of detainees to apply for any form of protection and to be released are very limited. Migrants were always endangered to be arrested from the streets and detained in one of the 24 removal centres and deported to their countries of origin. There have been several mass deportations or forcibly enacted so-called “voluntary returns”. In April 2018 and June 2018 Afghans were targeted and Syrians mainly affected by violent push backs at the Syrian border.

When Syrians reached Turkey, until now, they used to be in a slightly safer position than people from other nationalities. This has now changed.  The Government is following a new crackdown strategy and has sweepingly arrested unknown numbers of Syrians, detained them in removal centres and forced them to sign their “voluntary return” to Syria. Several videos and reports of affected people have been published (for an in-depth report and material collection see harekact: Mass Deportation Campaign in Istanbul Against Syrians: #StopDeportationsToSyria). This seems to be a new Turkish strategy. Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu announced that 80,000 people should be deported from Turkey this year.

The situation in Greece and the EU

The suspension of the EU-Turkey deal is a harsh setback for the EU and Greece. It runs counter the recent attempts of the Greek state and EASO to increase the number of deportations, which have been dropping since 2016. As part of these efforts, it was even discussed to regularly deport people recognized as vulnerable back to Turkey – despite the fact they were supposed to be exempted from the fast-track border procedure on the Greek Hotspot Islands.

The deputy minister for migration of the new conservative-right government party Nea Dimokratia in the meantime announced the plan to fly a zeppelin from Samos in cooperation with Frontex in order to spot migrant boats earlier and be able to prevent them from entering Greek territory.

So far, the EU has made big efforts to turn a blind eye on the rights violations happening in Turkey both against refugees and Turkish citizen themselves. As in Libya, the Sahara belt and other regions, the EU externalization of migration control is carried out on the back of those seeking protection, whose disfranchisement and death is tacitly accepted. So far, also in Turkey, the EU kept up the readmission deal and continued deportations, considering Turkey as “safe third country” despite the obvious rights violations. What will happen in future, when Turkey now refuses to play with the EU’s game?