For weeks, a three-member appeals board has quietly frustrated Europe’s refugee agreement with Turkey. Now, as the problem is becoming more acute and more public, the Greek government is preparing to oust its members. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Under the EU-Turkey agreement, in effect since March 20, Ankara is to take back nearly all migrants who reach Greek islands from Turkey, including refugees from the war in Syria, while sending Syrians from Turkish refugee camps to Europe.
But so far, no refugees have been returned to Turkey. The appeals body has ruled that all but two of the 32 asylum seekers whose cases it has considered should have their asylum claims evaluated in Greece, rather than in Turkey. As well, Greece’s asylum service has invalidated only about 30% of the few hundred asylum claims it has considered.
Asylum claimants have found a sympathetic ear from the board, whose members come from the Greek migration ministry, a state human-rights body and the United Nations refugee body, UNHCR. The latter two bodies have criticized the EU-Turkey deal. Representatives from both groups weren’t immediately available to comment.
Another factor delaying deportations has been Greece’s unwillingness to state in its asylum laws that Turkey is safe for the migrants—a prerequisite for deportations.
EU authorities want to see the bulk of the migrants’ asylum claims quickly dismissed on the grounds that the migrants weren’t in danger in Turkey and therefore should apply for asylum there. Greek officials have rejected that step, pointing to the EU’s own reluctance to declare that Turkey, with its patchy human-rights record, is safe for refugees. Changing the makeup of the asylum appeals board is seen in Athens as a less politically toxic alternative to declaring in law that Turkey is safe for all migrants.
As we wrote earlier this week, the Turkey-EU deal is breaking down, and resistance from the Greek and pan-European administrative class that was supposed to enforce it—judges, bureaucrats, NGO workers—is a big part of why. Still, the details as reported by the WSJ are somewhat incredible in just how total they paint the resistance as being:
Since the deal took effect, close to 500 migrants have been sent back to Turkey, officials say, but all were people who would likely have been returned anyway, because they volunteered to go back or declined to seek asylum in Greece.
Hundreds of asylum claims have yet to be processed, while over 7,000 other claims are expected by people who have expressed their intention to apply but who haven’t been able to lodge a claim yet because of a shortage of asylum-service staff.
Only 100 people have had their asylum claims dismissed as inadmissible on the grounds that Turkey was a safe country for them. Of those, 98 have lodged an appeal. The appeals body has so far reinstated the claims of 30 appellants and rejected only two.
In one of the two cases rejected, the board ruled it was safe for a gay Syrian man to be returned to Turkey, since he had been living in Istanbul for years, according to Greek officials involved in the process. The ruling was publicly condemned by NGOs.
We yield to no one in our opposition to the EU’s getting in bed with Turkey. From the start, we warned against a “deal [that] makes a mockery of European values”; as Turkey has spiraled downward into one-man authoritarianism, we’ve not hesitated to sound the alarm further. But this story—both the statistical picture of total paralysis of the repatriation agreement at the hands of the judges and the specific anecdote at the end here—underlines exactly how Europe came to be in this mess to begin with.
Any solution to the plight of the refugees is going to involve imperfections and trade-offs, many of them a great deal worse than a man having to return to the home he’d lived in for years. Thousands have drowned trying to make the journey from essentially safe if unpleasant Turkish camps to Europe; if the deterrent value of the deal is gutted, hundreds or thousands more will as well. The European bien pensant class’ determination to make the perfect the enemy of the good will, if unchecked, push the system till it breaks.
We shall see if the Greek initiative to simply remove the obstructionist panel members works—and whether that then gets things moving or whether the eurocrat class finds a new way to block the repatriations. But in the meantime, judges and NGOs dicker and dither, unwilling to repatriate, unable to convince their benighted fellow citizens to take the millions of Syrians and others who clamor for admission, unnerved totally at the prospect of doing anything meaningful about the source of the problem in Syria or Libya. All in the name of good intentions.