Facing an influx of refugees from war-torn Syria, Turkey has reneged on a deal struck with the European Union in 2016 to limit the number of migrants entering the EU via Turkey. Greek police have prevented 35,000 attempts to traverse the border since last Friday, turning away refugees who have been refused return to Turkey. With thousands now trapped between states and the resources of the Greek border authorities stretched, Europe faces the prospect of another destabilising crisis.
EU leaders have been swift to offer their support to Athens. On a visit to the Greek border earlier this week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen affirmed “our first priority is making sure that order is maintained at the Greek external border, which is also a European border. I am fully committed to mobilising all the necessary operational support to the Greek authorities.” European Council President Charles Michel has also reiterated the EU’s support for the 2016 deal, stressing “we will continue to guarantee the implementation of this agreement. But we expect from the Turkish side that they will also respect what they promised in the framework of this agreement.”
Back in Brussels, the EU’s crisis response machinery has already been cranked into action. At an extraordinary meeting of European home affairs ministers on Wednesday, the Commission presented an Action Plan of measures to support to the Greek government, including €350m in immediate financial assistance. Frontex, the EU’s border agency, is also working to deploy two rapid intervention operations to Greece’s land and sea borders, and will coordinate a new programme to speed up returns.
Over the coming months, the Commission will be working intensely to conclude proposals for a New Pact on Migration and Asylum. President von der Leyen has also recently pledged to relaunch the process of reforming the Dublin System for EU asylum rules. While it remains to be seen whether the EU and Turkey can revive their original agreement, the idea of offering even greater financial support to Ankara has been gaining traction in recent days.
European leaders are evidently anxious to avoid a repeat of the 2015 migration crisis, none more so than German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her diminished political authority testament to its legacy. Another poorly managed crisis this year, in parallel with the spread of Coronavirus, could pose existential questions for the integrity of the Schengen area.