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  • Rory O'Keeffe

Tsipras calls for five EU responses to refugees, but all have already been promised, and not carried

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has presented the EU leaders' summit (Brussels; 19-21 October) with five measures the EU should undertake, which he says would help ‘tackle migration’ into the bloc.

They are:

  1. A European mechanism for resettlement of refugees from third countries to the EU with the operation of central asylum services in third countries.

  2. A European mechanism for returns of refugees to countries of origin or transit.

  3. A funding mechanism for refugees in Turkey and examining possibilities to strengthen it.

  4. Implementation of the readmission agreement signed by Turkey

  5. A long-term plan to improve living conditions in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Some of these measures (most particularly number one) have been advocated for by myself and others since before 2015, while the second suggestion is effectively in place for Afghani refugees, but only really to forcibly deport them. Both would be extremely sensible, if undertaken and delivered in the right context – that of what is best for the people at the heart of the refugee situation; the refugees.

The third was supposed to be part of the EU/Turkey deal, under which Turkey was supposed to receive €6bn over three years. After a year and eight months, ECHO has in fact only allocated (not handed over) €886m of that promised total. Equally, points three and four rely heavily on the idea that Turkey is a ‘safe state’ for third-nation refugees. As noted on several occasions previously, there are significant reasons why it is not, not least that it is not signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention, which means people cannot claim asylum there (though they can be granted ‘protected person’ status).

We should also note that several groups, including Afghans and Kurdish people, have genuine reason to fear either for their safety, or that they will be forcibly removed from Turkey. While the EU is also committed to the forced deportation of Afghani refugees – despite the fact that war continues in a third of the state, and the Taliban holds more land there than at any point since 2001 – this is more an indictment of the EU, than it is an indication that Turkey’s ‘policy’ is correct.

The fifth suggestion is simple common sense: if you genuinely hope to stop people from coming to the EU, make sure they can have a decent, comfortable life in their own country – that way, they will move only to ‘see the world’ rather than because their sole alternative is death.

But the EU is already following a ‘similar’ scheme in sub-Saharan Africa, and rather than delivering better living standards and less oppression, it actually effectively translates to handing cash to regimes to prevent people leaving, via any means they deem necessary, with no questions asked by the EU.

To some extent, Tsipras has a point. Greece is a entry-point to the EU of refugees, and it is clear to him and the rest of us here that some important steps need to be taken, quickly, to change the situation faced by refugees and Greek people.

But at best, this is a list of policies the EU claimed it would adopt (and should have done) – and so a reminder and/or call for help, rather than any innovative new suggestion – and in some cases (particularly the handing of cash to refugees in Turkey) an extremely large amount of work, and a step-change in current EU refugee practice, would be necessary for any positive results to be seen.

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