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Understanding the EU-Turkey Deal

ICE Graveyard 11/04/2016 Zaid Hydari

Of all the media coverage of the recent EU-Turkey deal, the NY Post may have featured the most relevant reporting. The sensational tabloid published a video on April 6 showing a Pakistani man on the Greek island of Chios attempting to hang himself. The story not only captures the chaos and desperation taking place in Greece as a result of the deal, but also rightly brings attention to the population that is being most directly affected.
The EU and Turkey agreed to a "refugee deal" on March 18 that went into effect on April 4. The deal stipulates the return of individuals arriving irregularly by boat to Greece back to Turkey, in exchange for increased EU resettlement of Syrians from Turkey, large sums of aid to Turkey and the easing of EU visa restrictions for Turkish citizens. In the first week, Greek officials have returned 326 individuals, the vast majority of whom are Pakistani nationals.
Why is a deal that most people understand to be in relation to the Syrian refugee crisis involving such a large percentage of Pakistani nationals? And why should we be concerned about it?
Syrians are indeed among those crossing from Turkey to Greece. Turkey hosts 2.7 million Syrians, but also hosts more than 200,000 non-Syrian asylum-seekers. The non-Syrian displaced have been overshadowed in the past five years of war in Syria, both by media attention as well as aid allocation. Syrians may very well end up being part of the returns under the new EU-Turkey deal, but not likely in large numbers. Rather, as we have seen this past week, nationals of countries traditionally seen as "migrant producing," like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Morocco, will be returned to Turkey.
Large numbers of Pakistani nationals among the returns can be directly attributed to complementary actions being taken by the Turkish government. On April 7 the Turkish Parliament passed a readmission agreement with Pakistan. The bill now awaits Turkish President Erdogan's publication as law. The measure has been in the making for over 5 years and will allow for Turkey to deport Pakistanis with greater administrative ease.
A similar readmission agreement between the EU and Pakistan has been highly contentious. Signed in 2010, the agreement was temporarily suspended in November 2015 due to concerns voiced by the Pakistani government that the EU was misusing the agreement, returning individuals who were not properly identified as Pakistani citizens and in many cases without any stated legal grounds. The EU seems to now be transferring its Pakistan complication onto Turkey.
Not all Pakistanis in Turkey or the EU are necessarily "migrants." The terminology is a critical one as it determines what obligations a host state has toward the foreign national in question. According to international law a refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution and cannot be returned, while a migrant has no fear and may be returned to his/her home country. A simple analysis of the EU's asylum statistics reveals that there were 15,810 decisions made across the EU-28 on first-instance applications by Pakistani nationals in 2014, of which 27% were granted a protection status (12% refugee status, 7% subsidiary protection, 8% humanitarian residence). In other words, 4,268 Pakistani nationals were afforded protection by the EU in 2014 and specifically not classified as migrants. This is not a tiny number, and it does not even fully account for all the undecided applications.
Nor have country conditions in Pakistan substantially improved for many citizens since 2014. Notable instances of violence and public demonization of minorities, particularly Ahmadis and Christians, have plagued the country in the last 6 months especially, as well as a huge surge in the use of the death penalty by the government since it lifted a 6-year moratorium on capital punishment in December 2014.
The EU claims that Greek authorities have ensured that the Pakistani nationals being returned to Turkey since April 04 do not need protection (as per international law). But Greek officials themselves have publicly declared that they lack capacity to make such determinations, and would need 20 times the staff to ensure rights are upheld.
The EU's management of the increase in arrivals beginning in the summer of 2015 has been in the best case pitiful and in the worst case a concerted decision to create miserable conditions. Syrian and non-Syrian arrivals do amount to a sizeable figure, but nothing "crisis"-inducing for a wealthy continent of 800 million plus. In terms of effectiveness, in its first week, the deal has not done much to stem the flow of dangerous sea crossings, as evidenced by at least 5 deaths over the weekend.
Instead of talking tough on returning individuals back to Turkey, the EU should strengthen capacity in Greece for processing applications and improving poor reception conditions. Most importantly, stemming migrant flows to the EU from places like Pakistan could much more effectively be achieved by job-creating investment in those countries and the expansion of legal immigration channels, rather than on border enforcement in the Aegean Sea, a proven futile exercise.
In the meantime, these developments further underscore the need for refugee legal aid programs as well as migrants' rights initiatives in Turkey, so that independent civil society actors can monitor what are going to be increasing deportations to "migrant-producing" countries with real protection issues like Pakistan. Although the main population targeted over the first week, they will not be the last. On April 06 a Turkish government official announced that the Turkish parliament will soon introduce and debate similar bilateral agreements with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Eritrea, Algeria, Tunisia, Somalia, Myanmar, Congo, Cameroon, Sudan and Ghana. Nationals of many of these countries have even clearer refugee claims and protection needs than Pakistanis.

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