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Five years of the EU – Turkey Statement:Past, present and future

Read the full report by our Advocacy Officer Inês Avelãs HERE

In 2015, almost one million people seeking international protection arrived in to Europe, a drastic increase on previous years. This was accompanied by a negative media narrative, focusing on images of large crowds of people moving through different Member States. This narrative ignored the wider context of these events, and had the effect of inflaming public opinion and exacerbating anti-migration and anti-asylum sentiment. Those arriving in Europe were framed as a threat to European values and a drain on the Union’s resources, rather than human beings in need of asylum.

As the number of arrivals continued to increase and the political environment within and between Member States deteriorated, the states started to pressure Turkey to control the departures. On 8 March 2016, the Heads of State or Government of the Member States and the Turkish Prime Minister published a statement indicating that they were progressing with the implementation of the Joint Action Plan of 29 November 2015.[1] On 16 March 2016, the Commission stated that “the return of all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey [was] an essential component in breaking the pattern of refugees and migrants paying smugglers and risking their lives” and that, “given the extent of flows currently between Turkey and Greece, such arrangements should be considered as a temporary and extraordinary measure which is necessary to end the human suffering and restore public order...”.[2]

Finally on 18 March 2016, the EU-Turkey Statement was published on the Council’s website as a press release (Press release No 144/16), and it was presented as a continuation of the negotiations started in November 2015 between the ‘Members of the European Council’ and the Turkish counterpart, regarding the ‘migration crisis’.[3]

Five years of the EU – Turkey Statement
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The EU-Turkey Statement has been in force for five years now, resulting in inhumane and degrading conditions for asylum seekers while they wait for a decision on their asylum applications. This has led to the confoundment of a humanitarian crisis on European territory that has already been ongoing for 5 years. Instead of protecting those in need of international protection, the European Union and its Member States are confining them to dreadful conditions and procedures that, due to the unacceptably short timeframes, restrict their opportunities to access information and legal assistance.

The conditions in the Greek hotspots put the lives of asylum seekers in danger, inflicting further trauma on those who seek Europe’s protection against the torture, abuse, persecution and violence they escaped from and experienced both in their countries of origin and during their journeys.

The future should not see Europe embracing and supporting a deal that has failed, but implementing an asylum framework that is based upon the protection of people in need of asylum and on solidarity between Member States.

[1] “The Heads of State or Government agreed that bold moves were needed to close down people smuggling routes, to break the business model of the smugglers, to protect [the] external borders [of the European Union] and to end the migration crisis in Europe [They] warmly welcomed the additional proposals made today by [the Republic of] Turkey to address the migration issue. They agreed to work on the basis of the [following] principles: 1) to return all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands with the costs covered by the [European Union]; 2)to resettle, for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian from Turkey to the Member States [of the European Union], within the framework of the existing commitments [...]” CJEU, Available at: [Accessed on 11/3/2021], para 4. [2] Supra note 3, para 5 and 6. [3] European Council [18 March 2016], EU-Turkey statement, 18 March 2016, Press release No 144/16, Available at: [Accessed on 11/3/2021]

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