Implementation of Turkey-EU Agreement of 18 March 2016

We reached a game changer agreement with the EU on 18 March to completely stem irregular crossings in the Aegean Sea.

The agreement is based on the proposal made by Turkey only for humanitarian purposes.
We have three main objectives in our proposal:

(1) to prevent loss of lives in the Aegean,
(2) to break the migrant smuggling networks
(3) to replace illegal migration with legal migration.

According to the agreement, Turkey started to take back all irregular migrants as of 4 April, while on the same date resettlement of Syrians in Turkey towards the EU countries was launched. In this context, in the first week of the deal, Turkey took back 325 irregular migrants from the Aegean islands. Within the scope of “1 for 1” formula, 78 Syrians were resettled in Germany, the Netherlands and Finland. For every Syrian to be taken back to Turkey from the Aegean islands, in return the EU will start to resettle another Syrian from Turkey.

This exercise constitutes the most stunning example of burden and responsibility sharing that Turkey has been advocating since the eruption of the Syrian crisis in 2011.

Irregular migrants to be taken back by Turkey, are treated in line with the international humanitarian law.

Turkey, with humanitarian considerations, maintains an “open door” policy for Syrians without any form of discrimination since 2011. We strictly comply with the principle of non-refoulement. There is no change in this policy. Turkey hosts more than 2,7 million Syrians. 270.000 Syrians accommodated in 26 temporary protection centers are provided with food, non-food items, health and education services as well as psychological support, vocational training and social activities. In addition to that, Syrians who live outside these centers are also under our protection regime and they benefit from free health care and education services.

In order to grant temporary protection status to Syrians to be taken back from Aegean islands, on 7 April we made necessary amendment in our relevant Regulation . So, every Syrian from the islands will enjoy protection in Turkey.

Turkey remains committed to her obligations under international law and is determined to continue providing protection to Syrians fleeing from the instability and violence in their home country.

As for other nationalities, there should be no doubt that we will act in line with the Turkish “Law on Foreigners and International Protection”. Our legislation which complies with the EU standards, provides sufficient legal safeguard. Turkey will spare no efforts to provide necessary protection to those in need. The international protection applications lodged by irregular migrants will be dealt on a case by case basis pursuant to the Turkish legislation and international law.

Turkey-EU agreement has already put forward tangible results.

Due to Turkey’s resolute action against irregular migration, irregular crossings in the Aegean Sea already decreased since October 2015, when daily data was around 7.000. The effective implementation of the Turkey-EU Action Plan on Migration by Turkey contributes to this decline. Accordingly, in March, daily crossings decreased to 859.

Since we reached the 18 March agreement, we have been witnessing a significant decline in the scores. With the implementation of the agreement on 4 April, daily irregular crossings decreased to hundred fold with a sharp decrease from 7.000 in October 2015, to 70 on 6 April 2016. No crossings have been recorded on 10 April. This shows that our agreement has already put forward a positive outcome.

By this agreement, we gave a clear message to the migrant smugglers that the Aegean Sea will no longer be used for their business.

Resettlement from Turkey to the EU started as of 4 April.

Resettlement procedures are carried out in accordance with the UN vulnerability criteria. These criteria cover people in physical protection needs, medical needs, elderly asylum-seekers and women, girls and children at risk. In this process cooperation with the UNHCR is vital.

Selective apprach in the resettlement exercise is omitted. It goes without saying that educated Syrians will be a valuable resource for their country’s reconstruction, recovery and stability when they return to their country in the aftermath of the crisis.

Turkey continues to take all necessary steps to further improve the living conditions of the Syrians.

The By-Law dated 15 January 2016, allowing access of Syrians under temporary protection to the labor market, constitutes the latest example of this approach.

Besides protection and services provided to Syrians within Turkey, together with the NGOs, the Turkish authorities give shelter and all necessary assistance to Syrians in the cross border camps.

Allegations released by Amnesty International that Turkey has sent some Syrians back to their countries by force are unfounded.

Turkey, for over five years, has been implementing an "open door policy" to the Syrians who fled war and persecution in their country and within the frame of its international obligations, abide by the principle of “non-refoulement" meticulously.There is no change in this approach.

Turkey is the largest refugee-hosting country in the world. This is also a clear indication setting forth that Turkey complies with the principle of non-refoulement. Syrians are not urged or forced for voluntary return to Syria.

Turkey is bound by its obligations under international law and is determined to continue providing protection to the Syrians who have fled from violence and instability in their country.

While Turkey uses every available means for the Syrians, we regret that some countries which have closed their borders with barbed wire fences in order not to allow migrants, intensively release such news to their public.

The EU pledged 3 billion Euros for the needs of Syrians in Turkey.

In the Turkey-EU Action Plan on Migration the EU committed to allocate 3 billion Euros for Syrians in Turkey. This will only be used for the urgent needs of Syrians in Turkey, such as education and health. Now we are seeking for practical ways to accelerate its transfer.

On 18 March, the EU pledged to allocate an additional 3 billion Euros by 2018 for Syrians in Turkey. Both resettlement and financial assistance are crucial for burden and responsibility sharing.

Visa liberalization for Turkish citizens to the Schengen area is foreseen by the end of June 2016.

Human mobility will further contribute to the spirit of cooperation and welfare of Europe. It is high time that Turkish citizens who became active contributors of the EU economy, travel to the Schengen area without visa. It goes without saying that visa free travel of Turkish citizens to the Schengen area will bring a significant added value to the existing ties between Turkey and EU. Today Turkey is the only candidate country which does not benefit from visa liberalization with the EU.

One of the components of the 18 March agreement is the lifting of visa requirements for Turkish citizens to the Schengen area by the end of June 2016. Turkish authorities are exerting huge efforts to fulfill all the requirements indicated in the Visa Liberalization Roadmap.