EU-Turkey Deal in the Framework of the Migration Law


After the Arab Uprising, specifically after the breakout of the Syrian Civil War, thousands of people migrated toward safer places. Two main destinations were Turkey and the European Union states. Initially, this migration influx did not pose a problem for both party since Turkey was conducting an “Open Door Policy” and hosting many Syrian migrants. However, when it was reached in 2015, a major migration crisis emerged for the European Union. 2015 marked the peak of the migration wave; therefore, the EU decided to launch some plans. The most important plan was the EU-Turkey Deal which aimed to eradicate irregular migration to the EU and to cooperate with Turkey for this cause.

Key Words: EU-Turkey Deal, EU-Turkey Statement, The Joint Action Plan, Readmission Agreement, The Migration Crisis.


Arap Ayaklanmaları sonrasında, özellikle Suriye İç Savaşı’nın patlak vermesinden sonra, binlerce insan daha güvenli yerlere göç etti. İki ana varış noktası Türkiye ve Avrupa Birliği ülkeleriydi. Başlangıçta, Türkiye Açık Kapı Politikası yürüttüğü ve çok sayıda Suriyeli göçmene ev sahipliği yaptığı için bu göç dalgası bir sorun teşkil etmemiştir. Ancak 2015 yılına gelindiğinde Avrupa Birliği için büyük bir göç krizi ortaya çıktı. 2015, göç dalgasının en zirve noktası oldu; dolayısıyla AB bazı planlar başlatmaya karar verdi. En önemli plan, AB’ye yönelik düzensiz göçü ortadan kaldırmayı ve bu uğurda Türkiye ile işbirliği yapmayı amaçlayan AB-Türkiye Mutabakatı idi.

Anahtar Kelimeler: AB-Türkiye Anlaşması, AB-Türkiye Bildirisi, Ortak Eylem Planı, Geri Kabul Anlaşması, Göç Krizi.


Turkey’s relations with the EU, specifically regarding the migration issue, have developed since the Helsinki Summit in 1999 (Özalp, 2021). Even though the migration issue was not a top priority during that time, Turkey’s cooperation in controlling irregular migration and ending Turkey’s transit position was considered a primary framework in the migration issue in 1999 (Özalp, 2021).

During the accession period, Turkey’s migration and asylum policies began to transform. Historically, Turkey was known as a country of emigration, but with the contemporary migration waves, it has become a country of immigration and transit. Specifically, after the Arab Spring and Syrian Crisis, European states have also become countries of destination. To control the massive influx, they decided to launch negotiations with Turkey, in other words, the Gatekeeper of Europe. One was the Deal between Turkey and the European Union. It is considered controversial among the two parties just because they were not completely satisfied.

This article will elaborate the both sides’ stances toward the EU-Turkey Deal. By doing so, it will analyze the background of the deal and the migration crisis in the first part, also mentioning the Joint Action Plan. Then, the second part will be dedicated to explaining the EU-Turkey Deal and the EU-Turkey Statement’s existing points, and a conclusion will follow.

1. Background of the Deal and the Migration Crisis

The year 2015 marked the intensifying relations between the European Union and Turkey concerning the migration crisis (Özalp, 2021). Yet, before 2015, the migration phenomenon was not on the agenda of both parties when they came together at the summits (Özalp, 2021). Apart from signing the Readmission Agreement in 2013, the migration phenomenon was almost never touched.

The Readmission Agreement, which was signed on 16 December 2013 and came into force on the 1st of October 2014, regulates the readmission of nationals of the two signatories and stateless persons or nationals of third countries with which Turkey signed bilateral treaties or arrangements on readmission (İktisadi Kalkınma Vakfı, n.d.). EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmströ believed that the entry into force of the concerned agreement would help to manage the irregular migration flows arriving to the European Union member states from the Turkish territories (İktisadi Kalkınma Vakfı, n.d.). Moreover, this agreement marked an important stepping stone to visa liberalization with Turkey. However, the demands of both parties could not meet satisfactory responses. Thus, this situation led to the EU-Turkey Deal in 2016.

Before mentioning the Deal, it would be more relevant to explain why there were not any efficient decisions taken about irregular migration before the Readmission Agreement (2013). Because of the perception of the uprisings in the Middle East and the Syrian conflict as a temporary issue and not seeking international assistance, there were no effective plans put into practice between the European Union and Turkey. Furthermore, the impact of Ahmet Davutoğlu’s humanitarian diplomacy to help other countries has become a primary agenda for Turkish foreign policy (Özalp, 2021). Complying with these stances, Turkey implied an “Open-Door Policy” in 2011, which resulted in massive refugee flow to its territory.

In 2015, around one million people tried to cross into European territories through Turkish territories. Among that number, 821.008 people fled to Greece, 150.317 to Italy, 29.959 to Bulgaria, and 3.845 to Spain (IOM, n.d.). These migrants were not only Syrians but also from other countries. The migration phenomenon started to become a hot topic in Europe. That is why the procedures of Turkey’s accession to the European Union reopened. Also, most migrants were from Syria and crossed to the European Union territories from Turkey. Aligning with this situation, The Joint Action Plan in 2015 was drafted (Özalp, 2021). According to the Action Plan, Turkey was recognized as a safe third country. Also, the Action Plan addressed the crisis in three ways: first, finding the root causes of the massive influx; second, supporting Syrians under temporary protection and their host communities in Turkey (Part I); strengthening cooperation to prevent the irregular flow to EU (Part II); also, the Action Plan highlights the burden-sharing of the crisis (EU-Turkey joint action plan, n.d.).

In short, the Joint Action Plan did not satisfy the needs of both parties. On the one hand, the European Union was convinced that Turkey could not handle the situation well or prevent irregular migration flows. On the other hand, Turkey defended that visa liberalization for Turkish nationals and financial aid was becoming more important daily. The complications in EU-Turkey relations were emerging on the migration issue, so the parties decided to adopt further measures.

2. The EU-Turkey Statement 2016, Content and Context

In September 2015, asylum applications were at the utmost high; 1 349 638 people demanded asylum in Europe. Among this number, 369 871 were from Syria, 199 202 were from Western Balkans, 190 013 were from Afghanistan, 125 529 were from Iraq, 47 809 were

from Pakistan, 46 640 were from Eritrea, 28 043 were from Iran, 21 861 were from Somalia, and 21 577 were from Russian Federation (European Asylum Support Office, n.d.). Because of massive immigration, some hotspots were created: such as Italy and Greece (Fernández Casanova, n.d.). Already in August 2015, the number of migrants to arrive in Italy was 104,000, whereas in Greece, during the same period, this number reached 158,456 (Scammell, 2015). It should be taken into consideration that there are many ways to reach the European territories: migrants can arrive by passing through the land borders. To demonstrate this fact, in August 2015, migrants arriving in Greece brought the total number of arrivals to 160,172, with 1,716 migrants entering Greece through land borders (Refugees, n.d.).

As a result, Europe took initiative especially to assist Italy and Greece with their migrant burden; the European Union adopted Plan A, wishing to distribute up to 160.000 asylum seekers from those countries among member states (Fernández Casanova, n.d.). However, Plan A failed because of a lack of solidarity.

On 28 January 2016, the chief of the Dutch Labor Party, Diederik Samson, announced in a newspaper interview a plan to decrease the number of people arriving from Turkey; this was called the “Samson Plan”. Thanks to this plan, it was provisioned to resettle 150.00-250.000 migrants from Turkish territories to the EU member states. Also, Turkey would be required to accept back all the persons that crossed the border in the direction of Greece. Plan B started to develop (Fernández Casanova, n.d.). So, the European Union negotiated this plan with Turkey and set the basis of the Statement between Turkey and the EU as a part of the Deal. This statement was made public on 18 March 2016 and added to other documents agreed upon between the European Union and Turkey, such as the Statement of the European Heads of State or Government of 7 March 2016; the Commission Communication on the Next Operation Steps in EU-Turkey Cooperation in the Field of Migration from 16 March 2016 and the EU Summit Conclusion on Migration from the 18 March 2016 (Casanova, n.d.). The latter came together and formed the EU-Turkey Deal. The objective of the deal was to provide more services and better conditions to Syrian migrants while tackling the human smuggling network. Turkey was likely involved in the deal because it could not get visa liberalization, which was promised long before promised through the previous Readmission Agreements. Turkey also announced that even the candidate countries of the European Union obtained visa liberalization except for Turkey.

The Statement also marked the reopening of the procedures to accession to the European Union for Turkey. The conditionality was put Turkey had to take back all the migrants arriving in Greece irregularly. This was formulated in the first point as “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey. This will take place in full accordance with the European Union and international law, thus excluding any kind of collective expulsion”. Here, the wording “All the new arrivals (…) will be returned” seems to go against “excluding any kind of collective expulsions” (Fernández Casanova, n.d.). Prohibition of collective expulsion cannot be found in Geneva Convention 1951 but in other instruments, such as in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)’s judgments on the protection of this right and the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, such as Article 2 Right to Life can be considered as related. For instance, the notion of collective expulsion can be explained as the following in the judgments of the ECtHR: “any measure compelling aliens, as a group, to leave the country, except where such a measure is taken based on a reasonable and objective examination of the particular case of each individual alien of the group” Some of the judgments of the ECtHR are on the cases of Khlaifia and Others v. Italy; Georgia v. Russia; Andric v. Sweden; Čonka v. Belgium, Sultani v. France; and the Commission decisions Becker v. Denmark; K.G. v. Germany, 1977; O. and Others v. Luxembourg; Alibaks and Others v. the Netherlands,1988; Tahiri v. Sweden (Guide on Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights, Prohibition of Collective Expulsions of Aliens, 2022).

The first point in the Statement continues: “All migrants will be protected in accordance with the relevant international standards and in respect of the principle of non-refoulment” (EU-Turkey Statement, 18 March 2016, 2016). It is demonstrated here that all the migrants arriving in Europe enjoy protection under international human rights, refugee, humanitarian, and customary law. It prohibits States from transferring or removing individuals from their jurisdiction or effective control when there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be at risk of irreparable harm upon return, including persecution, torture, ill-treatment, or other serious human rights violation (The Refugee Protection 1951, n.d.). Because of the principles of the international refugee protection regime, the prohibition of collective expulsion, and the principle of nonrefoulement, the first point in the statement is controversial: some defend that it contradicts the self.

The second point of the Statement elaborates on the exchange mechanism: “For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled to the EU taking into account the UN Vulnerability Criteria” (EU-Turkey Statement, 18 March 2016 2016). This was called a 1:1 resettlement scheme. In other words, new irregular migrants entering the European Union territory would be deported to Turkey in exchange for relocating one Syrian migrant in Turkey for every one sent back (Dagi, 2020). The United Nations Vulnerability Criteria explains vulnerable persons as: “Children (unaccompanied or separated child, child accompanied by parents or other family members or guardians should be placed in different ranks); women (pregnant women, nursing mothers); elderly persons; persons at risk of violence of their sexual orientation; persons with physical and/or mental complications, persons with disability, persons with addictions, stateless persons, victims of trafficking persons, survivors of sexual or gender-based violence or persons with any other vulnerabilities (UNHCR and IDC, n.d.).

The third point of the Statement mentions the necessary measures taken by Turkey. It is as follows: “Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for irregular migration opening from Turkey to the EU and will cooperate with neighbouring states as well as the EU to this effect” (EU-Turkey Statement, 18 March 2016, 2016). This point highlights the cooperation which will be taking place between Turkey, the European Union, and the neighbouring states.

The fourth point announces the envisaged scheme when the irregular migration rather decreases or ends: “Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU are ending or at least have been substantially and sustainably reduced, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated. EU Member States will contribute on a voluntary basis to this scheme” (EU-Turkey Statement, 18 March 2016, 2016). In fact, the recommendation of a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme (VHAS) was before the Statement; the European Commission presented a recommendation to Turkey in January 2016. The objective of the VHAS was set to create a system of solidarity and burden sharing with Turkey for the protection of persons forcefully displaced to Turkey because of the conflict in Syria (Council of the European Union, 2017).

The fifth point examines visa liberalization for Turkey. It is formulated as follows: “The fulfilment of the visa liberalization roadmap will be accelerated vis-à-vis all participating Member States with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016, provided that all benchmarks have been met” (EU-Turkey Statement, 18 March 2016, 2016). This is one of the topics that Turkey insists on the most, but it was also promised in EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement 2013 but could not be implemented. This is also one of the reasons that Turkey tends to doubt the European Union’s pledges to Turkey.

The sixth point states that there is monetary aid that will be delivered by the European Union to Turkey to provide better services for the migrants in Turkey. It is explained as follows: “The EU will, in close cooperation with Turkey, further speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated €3 billion under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey. Once these resources are about to be used in full, the EU will mobilize additional funding for the Facility up to an additional €3 billion by the end of 2018” (EU-Turkey Statement, 18 March 2016, 2016).

The seventh point establishes that two parties are welcome to work on upgrading the Customs Union. The Customs Union between two parties is a trade agreement; on 6 March 1995, Association Council adopted a Customs Union Decision to finalize the agreements between the EU and Turkey. This Union provides free movement of goods, legislation alignment, trade policy alignment, abolition of technical barriers to trade in industrial products, and customs legislation (Customs Union, n.d.).

The eighth point is as follows: “The accession process will be re-energized, with Chapter 33 opened during the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union and preparatory work on the opening of other chapters to continue at an accelerated pace” (EU-Turkey Statement, 18 March 2016, 2016). Chapter 33 covers financial and budgetary provisions, which are made up mainly of agricultural duties and sugar levies. It is also understood that Turkey has made progress on Chapter 33’s provisions and continues to have.

The ninth and last point emphasizes the cooperation between the European Union and Turkey. “The EU and its Member States will work with Turkey in any joint endeavour to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria, in particular in certain areas near the Turkish border, which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be safer” (EU-Turkey Statement, 18 March 2016, 2016).

After having explained the statement’s points, it should also be stated that Turkey was dealing with a plethora of problems before the Statement’s adoption. First, the Russian Su-24 aircraft was shot down by Turkey, and relations with Russia deteriorated. Second, Turkey tended to get isolated by the world; therefore, it was in the research of a partner. Also, Turkey had to spend more than 7,6 billion Euros on Syrian migrants and needed financial aid from other states to share the responsibility/burden. Thus, Turkey and the European Union put disagreements aside and found common ground.


After implementing the Statement’s provisions in the context of the Deal, according to the report of the European Commission, the irregular migration to Greece decreased by 97%, and the death toll was almost eradicated by May 2016 (Dagi, 2020). In 2019, according to International Organization for Migration (IOM) figures, a total of 66,166 migrants arrived in Greece. These numbers indicate that the statement was not successful since the main objective was to eradicate irregular migration to Europe. Also, the promise of visa liberalization for Turkey was suspended after a coup d’état was attempted in Turkey, which complicated the relations with the European Union. In 2022, it can be observed that the irregular migration to Europe from Turkey is significantly reduced; however, European Union member states did not keep their promise because Europe is still not visa-free for Turkey.

Cansu Gürcan

Göç Hukuku Staj Programı


Council of the European Union. (2017). Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme with Turkey.

Customs Union. (n.d.). Retrieved December 28, 2022, from

Dagi, D. (2020). The EU-Turkey Migration Deal: Performance and Prospects. European Foreign Affairs Review, 25(2), 197–216.

European Asylum Support Office. (n.d.). Latest asylum trends – 2015 overview.

European Parliament. (2022). EU-Turkey Statement & Action Plan. Legislative Train. Foreign Affairs.

EU-Turkey joint action plan. (n.d.). [Text]. European Commission – European Commission. Retrieved December 28, 2022, from

EU-TURKEY READMISSION AGREEMENT ENTERED INTO FORCE | İktisadi Kalkınma Vakfı—İKV. (n.d.). Retrieved December 28, 2022, from MISSION%20AGREEMENT%20ENTERED%20INTO%20FORCE&id=739

EU-Turkey statement, 18 March 2016. (2016).

Fernández Casanova, A. (n.d.). THE EU-TURKEY DEAL, A SOLUTION THAT CAN WORK A legal analysis on the flaws of the EU-Turkey deal and its viability under International and European Law. EOTVOS LORAND UNIVERSITY BUDAPEST.

Guide on Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights, Prohibition of collective expulsions of aliens. (2022).

Irregular Migrant, Refugee Arrivals in Europe Top One Million in 2015: IOM. (n.d.). International Organization for Migration. Retrieved December 28, 2022, from 15-iom

Özalp, O. K. (2021). A FAILED NEGOTIATION?: A CLOSER LOOK ON THE EU-TURKEY DEAL OF 2016.                                           

Refugees, U. N. H. C. for. (n.d.). Numbers of refugee arrivals to Greece increase dramatically. UNHCR. Retrieved December 28, 2022, from e-increase-dramatically.html

Scammell, R. (2015, June 7). Mediterranean migrant crisis: Number of arrivals in Italy in 2015 passes  50,000. The Guardian. asses-50000

UNHCR and IDC. (n.d.). VULNERABILITY SCREENING TOOL (Division of International Protection, p. 38). The Refugee Protection 1951.

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