• Frederik Rein Lybæk-Jensen
Despite unprecedented levels of forced displacement across the globe, the contemporary international refugee regime is characterized by a lack of collective action and burden-sharing between states. This is the result of a North-South impasse, as Northern states have largely been able to isolate themselves from refugee streams from the global South, and have no formal obligation under international refugee law to contribute towards the protection of refugees on the territory of other states. This collective action failure was overcome, however, when a large spike in Mediterranean crossings in 2015 revealed the limits of European solidarity by exposing weaknesses in the Common European Asylum System and the Dublin System. This prompted the European Union (EU) to initiate the process that eventually culminated in EU member states and Turkey signing the EU-Turkey Statement on March 18th 2016.
This paper draws on various relevant concepts from international relations in order to explain the dynamics that led to successful international cooperation on the EU-Turkey Statement, while also considering the implications of the deal for refugee protection in the EU and Turkey. The deal was, in some respects, a successful case of overcoming the widespread problem of collective action failure in the international politics of refugee protection, and contributed to a substantial drop in crossings from Turkey over the Aegean Sea into Greece. It represents a notable case in which a Southern state was able to use their control over the onward movement of asylum seekers to reverse power asymmetries and overcome the collective action failure resulting from the North-South impasse. Through the leverage it gained from its role as the EU’s gatekeeper, Turkey extracted various significant political concessions from the EU.
However, the deal has been criticized from numerous fronts on account of its net effect on refugee protection in Europe, as critics regard the deal simply as a new form of coordinated deterrence policy towards asylum seekers and an externalization of the EU’s asylum and border management mechanisms, rather than a case of genuine burden-sharing on international refugee protection. They point to abysmal conditions for migrants and asylum seekers on the Greek islands, issues with considering Turkey a safe-third country and the inadequacy of legal safeguards to prevent the refoulement of individuals who are entitled to international protection.
Publication date2 Jan 2019
ID: 292604051