Europe Will Return Migrants to Turkey
E.U. and Turkish leaders have agreed a comprehensive plan that they believe opens a safe and legal route to the E.U. for Syrian refugees while reducing irregular migration. The plan comes into effect on March 20.
The agreement finalizes the one-for-one principle that E.U. leaders and Turkey provisionally agreed on March 7: all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands will be returned to Turkey; and for every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the E.U.
This temporary link between resettlement and return is feasible up to a limit of 72,000 using the E.U.'s existing resettlement and relocation commitments, under which respectively 18,000 and 54,000 places remain available.
European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker underlined that the agreement "respects all European Union and international norms. Refugees and asylum-seekers will have their requests handled individually and will be able to lodge appeals. The principle of non-refoulement will be respected."
Juncker recognized that the European Union and Greece were facing a "Herculean task" to implement the plan. The President announced that he had appointed Maarten Verwey – who is already in Greece as the Commission's Director-General of the Structural Reforms Support Service – as the European Union's coordinator to organize the dispatching of the 4,000 staff that will be needed from Greece, Member States, the European Asylum Support Office and FRONTEX. Juncker announced that the Commission had earmarked €280 million ($314 million) for the first six months of the plan.
More information on the agreement is available here.
IMRF Will Continue Rescue Efforts
The International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) has issued a statement saying it remains committed to developing the maritime search and rescue (SAR) capability of the Greek volunteer service, even following the E.U. Turkey agreement.
“We committed to help until the maritime rescue services can cope with the demand for rescue on their waters” says Bruce Reid, CEO of IMRF. “We are not sure what the impact of the announcement about the agreement will be on the numbers of people finding themselves in distress, making the crossing between Turkey and Greece.”
The IMRF’s initiative, with its European members, to support the Hellenic Coast Guard with SAR missions in the Aegean, is gaining momentum.
The German Maritime SAR service (DGzRS) has rescued 600 people in a week and in their first operation near Lesbos they rescued 57 people including 20 children using the lifeboat Minden.
Those rescued were mainly Syrian refugees who were in two rubber dinghies unfit for the open sea. According to Captain Udo Helge Fox, Chairman of the IMRF and also managing director of the DGzRS, who was in charge of the rescue operation, the majority of those in distress were women, small children and infants, the youngest of about two months old, the oldest woman over 70.
Under the command of the Greek Coast Guard, the Minden crew has rescued 165 people on one mission, including six babies aged less than three months, and has continued to save refugees fleeing their homeland.
“Many of them are completely soaked. Again and again we have to provide medical assistance for the refugees, some of whom suffer from circulatory collapse, hypocalcaemia or seasickness” reported Ulrich Fader, captain of the Minden, which has been reinforced by two lifesavers from the German Life-Saving Service (DLRG).
On Chios, the Dutch maritime rescue service (KNRM), has provided equipment and two Atlantic class lifeboats, and has started a training program, as well as setting up a lifeboat station being built by volunteers.
KNRM have launched a fundraising initiative to support their efforts in the Aegean and to date they have raised 100,000 euros ($112,000) along with 259,000 euros through sponsorship. They need a further 50,000 euros to cover all their costs.
“The work of the IMRF members is making a real difference in the Aegean. We are training up volunteers on basic seamanship and using our Rescue Boat Guidelines as the template for practical action,” said Reid.
“This is the first time the IMRF has been able to co-ordinate a large scale rescue operation over a period time. As well as helping to save lives in the area we are imparting knowledge and experience which will be invaluable for the Hellenic Rescue Services in the future.”