Turkey suspends ‘migrant readmission’ deal with Greece
Turkey has suspended its bilateral migrant readmission deal with Greece in response to a decision by a Greek court to release eight former Turkish soldiers who fled the country a day after the July 2016 coup attempt, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on June 6.
“We have a migrant deal with the EU. It is being implemented. We have a bilateral readmission deal with Greece. We have now suspended this agreement. The process is not fully over but our works towards Greece will continue,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters in Antalya.
His statement was in response to a question of whether Ankara was considering sanctions against Greece following the release of these soldiers. “It is unacceptable,” the minister said.
“Greece is under immense pressure from the west, particularly on its judiciary,” he added, underlining that the Greek government was sincerely in favor of a resolution to this problem.
This agreement with Greece constitutes the legal backbone of the migrant deal between Turkey and the EU, which was brokered on March 18, 2016, aiming to stem the flow of irregular migrants from Turkey to the Greek islands. The deal says for every Syrian migrant sent back to Turkey from the Greek islands, one Syrian in Turkey will be resettled in the EU.
Future of Turkey-EU deal?
Given the fact that Turkey and the EU could not accomplish the Readmission Agreement (in return for visa liberalization for Turkish nationals) due to differences over the definition of terrorism, the cancellation of the Turkey-Greece agreement will make the implementation of the migrant deal much more difficult as the Greek government will no longer be able to send Syrian refugees back to Turkey.
However, there are also those who argue that Turkey’s migrant deal with the EU and its bilateral agreement with Greece are two separate mechanisms and therefore, halting the latter will not have an effect on the implementation of the former. In any case, this move by Turkey will spark legal confusion over the future of the Turkey-EU agreement.
On June 7, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ also voiced Ankara’s anger over Athens’ refusal to extradite the former servicemen accused of coup links.
“Turkey remains ‘disturbed’ by Greece’s approach, which is contrary to neighborhood law and international law between the two countries,” Bozdağ said.
He said international law demands Greece hand over the soldiers to Turkey.
Bozbağ added that Greece’s decision not to hand them over would not prevent Turkey from its fight against the terrorist group.
“We will continue our fight against terrorism and Turkey noted Greece’s stance on this issue,” he said.
In January, the Greek Supreme Court ruled against extraditing the former soldiers, a move Turkey called “politically motivated.”
Turkey has repeatedly called for the extradition of the suspected coup-plotters, including during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s official visit to Greece last December.
The soldiers arrived in Greece’s Thrace region aboard a military helicopter hours after the botched putsch.
Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said on June 6 he planned to brief his counterparts during a meeting of NATO defense ministers scheduled for June 7 on the earlier remarks made by Bozdağ regarding the eight army officers, the Greek daily Kathimerini reported.
“No matter what they do, it is our duty to find these soldiers’ links to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization [FETÖ] and bring them back to Turkey regardless of where they go,” Bozdağ said on June 4.
As tensions between the two NATO allies escalate, the Turkish Navy has ordered one frigate, two gunboats and units from the Under Water Attack Team (SAT) to be on alert in the Aegean Sea to prevent possible “provocative actions” from Greece, state-run Anadolu Agency reported on June 7.
The frigate and the gunboats will patrol the Aegean Sea 24/7, while SAT commandos will stand ready to act if needed.
According to the news service, drones belonging to the Turkish military are also regularly flying missions over the Aegean Sea.