MEPs Call for Common Asylum Rules
In a shortened plenary session last week, several MEPs hit back at pressure from Turkey while calling for an update to the EU’s common rules on asylum. The EU must help Greece manage its border with Turkey, attendees argued, and ensure the right of asylum for those who need it.
Held in Brussels instead of Strasbourg amid widespread concerns over COVID-19, the one-day session dealt with the EU’s response to the outbreak, the bloc’s long-term budget, and rising tensions at the Greek-Turkish border.
For more than a week, thousands of people have been attempting to cross the Greek-Turkish border by land and sea after Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan announced that migrants would no longer be prevented from crossing into the EU. Turkey, Erdoğan argues, is owed more support to cope with the humanitarian crisis wrought by the protracted conflict in Syria.
“We will not keep our borders closed because the EU isn’t keeping its promises,” said Erdoğan in a television speech last month.
Greek authorities responded by deploying riot police at the border, and declaring that they would not be accepting asylum applications for at least a month. Frontex, the EU border agency, launched a rapid border intervention at Greece’s sea borders in the Aegean. Turkey, on the other hand, was transporting migrants to the border and firing tear gas toward Greek border guards.
The flare-up represents “the first-ever refugee exodus, albeit a limited one, fully organized by one government against another,” explained Marc Pierini, a former EU envoy to Turkey, “because of the blackmail used by Turkey, getting an agreement from the European Council is going to be more difficult.”
The majority of speakers at the Brussels plenary session charged Erdoğan with using the suffering of individuals for political purposes, with many underscoring that the 2015 refugee crisis should not be repeated.
Some political groups have called for a revision of a 2016 asylum deal reached with Turkey meant to stem the flow of refugees and migrants in exchange for EU financial aid. Others have raised concern over the humanitarian situation both at the border with Turkey and on the Greek Islands, where thousands of asylum-seekers are currently stranded- many of them unaccompanied minors.
Other issues raised during the discussion included the need to respect the Geneva Convention and offer protection to refugees, reports of police violence against people attempting to cross the Turkey-Greece border, and the risk that jihadists may be using the current situation to enter EU territory.
Recent reports indicate that Turkish authorities have begun transporting migrants from the Greek-Turkish land border back to Istanbul by bus, signalling a possible end to the ordeal. Meanwhile, a video of thousands of asylum seekers demonstrating at the Turkish side of the Greek border is circulating online.
There have been 211 reported migrant deaths in the Mediterranean region in 2020 so far.