Sofia, March 16, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Bulgaria’s Cabinet agreed on March 16 2016 to ask the National Assembly to ratify a contribution of 5.9 million euro over three years towards three billion euro EU assistance to Turkey arising from an October 2015 deal with Ankara on control of migration flows.
The October deal envisaged Turkey taking back migrants in return for accelerating visa liberalisation and giving new impetus to Turkey’s EU accession talks.
The Bulgarian Cabinet decision came on the eve of a two-day European Council meeting set to see intense discussions on a provisional agreement with Turkey, reached on March 7 2016, that would enable Greece to return migrants to Turkey while on a “one-to-one” basis, Turkey would be able to send Syrian migrants into the EU.
On this deal, Turkey has demanded six billion euro from the EU to deal with the migrant crisis and wants action on accelerating EU membership negotiations. The provisional deal has been highly controversial, with human rights groups questioning its legality, and with concerns about the EU making deals with Turkey in spite of Ankara’s worsening human rights record.
The Bulgarian Cabinet said in a March 16 statement that after Parliament ratifies the 5.9 million euro contribution, Bulgaria will send the European Commission a signed certificate on its contributions, along with a schedule of payments for the 2016/19 period. The government said that Bulgaria’s contribution was based on the country’s gross national income as a proportion of the EU’s GNI.
The statement noted that the mechanism for Turkey regarding refugees was established to co-ordinate actions financed from the EU budget and contributions bilaterally from EU member states. The total amount of aid under the mechanism was three billion euro, of which one billion euro would come from the EU budget while the rest would be provided by contributions from EU member states to the facility.
The funds are intended to finance urgent humanitarian needs of refugees and host communities in Turkey – mainly for the provision of food, health services and education. They will be granted to Turkey under the relevant EU programmes, mainly through humanitarian assistance and the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance.
At the same March 16 meeting, Bulgaria’s Cabinet approved the country’s position for the European Council meeting on March 17 and 18. Bulgaria will be represented at the meeting by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov.
The position said that Bulgaria agrees to more decisive influence on Turkey to enable maximum implementation of the EU-Turkey action plan and an effective reduction in the flow of migrants to the EU border.
The document added that fulfillment of Turkey’s commitments to return and readmission is a basic condition for progress on visa liberalisation.
Bulgaria’s position is that effective control of all EU external borders, not only those that are Schengen borders, is of paramount importance for managed migration in the short and medium term.
The focus should be on support for all EU countries that, because of their location, have to assume greater responsibilities.
In connection with the proposed voluntary humanitarian scheme Turkey (resettlement), Bulgaria would emphasise that the initiative can be implemented only after there is a cessation of the flow of illegal immigrants from Turkey to the EU.
“At this stage we do not consider it appropriate to participate in such a resettlement scheme, as an external border of the EU, there is a constant influx of immigrants and asylum seekers from Turkey into our country,” the position statement said.
Meanwhile, on March 16, the European Commission set out the six principles for further developing EU-Turkey co-operation in tackling the migration crisis.
The EC noted that on March 7, EU leaders had agreed that bold moves were needed to close down people smuggling routes, to break the business model of the smugglers, to protect the EU external borders and to end the migration crisis in Europe.
“To achieve this, the leaders warmly welcomed the additional proposals made by Turkey and agreed to work with Turkey on the basis of a set of six principles. The President of the European Council was tasked with taking forward these proposals and working out the details with Turkey before the European Council of March 18 and 19,” the EC said.
EC Vice President Frans Timmermans said: “Nobody who wants to remain true to the principles of decency, humanity and solidarity can be satisfied with a situation where human beings, to reach Europe, take a gamble on their lives, putting them in the hands of people smugglers who cynically exploit human misery. We need to finally break that pattern.
“The proposals discussed between the EU and Turkish leaders to return all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Greece from Turkey, as a temporary and extraordinary measure taking effect as soon as possible, together with resettling Syrians from Turkey to the EU, can break the smugglers’ business model once and for all.
“But this will and can only take place in accordance with the international and EU legal framework. This means that the case of each person requesting international protection needs to be assessed individually, with a right to appeal, and with the guarantee that there will be no ‘refoulement’,” Timmermans said.
The Commission said that its March 16 statement was its contribution to the European Council and “sets out how the six principles should be taken forward, delivering on the full potential for EU-Turkey co-operation while respecting European and international law”.
First, the return of irregular migrants and asylum seekers whose claims have been declared inadmissible or rejected, an essential component in breaking the pattern of migrants paying smugglers and risking their lives, can only be carried out in respect of European and international law.
“The arrangements for such returns, both of those in need of international protection, and those who are not, should only be considered as a temporary and extraordinary measure aimed at putting an end to the human suffering resulting from the current significant flows between Turkey and Greece.”
All returns need to be carried out in line with the refugee protection safeguards that have been put in place in international and EU law. This entails that every asylum application is treated individually, respecting the clear legal and procedural parameters set out in the EU Asylum Procedures Directive.
“There is no question of applying a ‘blanket’ return policy, which would be contrary to the legal requirements and the fundamental rights of asylum seekers, the EC said.
Readmission of people not in need of international protection: All new irregular migrants and asylum seekers entering Greece found not in need of international protection will be returned to Turkey under the bilateral readmission Agreement between Greece and Turkey.
Returning persons in need of international protection: Under EU law (Articles 35 and 38 of the Asylum Procedures Directive), an asylum application can be closed and declared inadmissible if a person has already been recognised as a refugee or already enjoys sufficient protection in a “first country of asylum”, or if a person has come to the EU from a “safe third country” which can guarantee effective access to protection.
“A number of safeguards exist to protect asylum seekers’ rights, including individual examinations of every case, personal interviews and a right of appeal against inadmissibility decisions,” the EC said.
Practical arrangements: In order to apply these provisions, modifications would be required to both Greek and Turkish domestic legislation – in Greece to ensure Turkey is classified a safe third country and in Turkey to ensure access to effective asylum procedures for all persons in need of international protection. Fast-track operational arrangements between Greece and Turkey will also need to be put in place, including an increase of the reception capacity in the Greek islands and an adaptation of the hotspots to host readmission and asylum offices.
The second principle listed by the EC was that, for every Syrian national returned from the Greek islands another will be resettled to the EU directly from Turkey.
In order to function, member states should make a sufficient number of resettlement places available. Existing commitments used for this purpose will include the 18 000 remaining places from the EU resettlement scheme of 22 504 places agreed in July 2015 and if needed, the use of the unallocated 54 000 places under existing relocation decisions should be considered, the EC said.
The logistical framework that underpins the Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme with Turkey should be used for the purposes of the 1:1 resettlement scheme – namely relying on the expertise of the UNHCR with the support of EASO, IOM and additional national asylum officers where needed. Once the 1:1 scheme has fulfilled its purpose of stemming migration flows, admissions under the Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated, with Member States contributing on a voluntary basis.
The third principle was accelerating the visa liberalisation roadmap with Turkey, the EC said.
“Work on the Visa Liberalisation Roadmap with Turkey will be accelerated – without changing the 72 benchmarks which need to be fulfilled by Turkey (35 of which have already been fulfilled). In order to meet the target of lifting visa requirements by the end of June, Turkey will need to adopt the pending measures in good time. On the understanding that Turkey takes the necessary measures to fulfil the remaining requirements, the Commission will make a legislative proposal to lift the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the end of April 2016.”
The fourth principle was speeding up the disbursement of funds under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, the European Commission said.
The EC said that the first projects under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey are being financed, with 55 million euro to address the immediate needs of Syrian school-children in Turkey for access to formal education, and 40 million euro in humanitarian aid through the World Food Programme. The next step for funding further projects will require the pro-active engagement of the Turkish authorities to finalise the needs analysis by mid-April.
The fifth principle was accelerating Turkey’s EU accession negotiations, the EC said.
“The Commission and member states are working on advancing the accession negotiations with Turkey. Preparations are now underway to progress towards the opening of five chapters. The Commission aims to finalise all relate preparatory documents in the spring with a view to submitting them to the Council, without prejudice to member states’ positions and the negotiating framework.
The sixth principle was improving the humanitarian conditions inside Syria
As already stated by the European Council, the EU is ready to work with Turkey to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria which would allow refugees to live in areas which will be safer. To be successful, it is fundamental that the commitments made by the International Syria Support Group in Munich on February 11-12 are swiftly implemented in full by all parties, the European Commission said.