EU asylum reform tightens criteria for Turkish nationals

European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The European Parliament has adopted a comprehensive pact to reform migration and asylum policies, which includes tough measures that could affect Turkish nationals in particular, as their recognition rate for asylum applications is below 20 percent, Turkish Minute reported, citing Deutsche Welle’s Turkish service.

After years of negotiations, the EU has adopted a reform aimed at changing the reception of asylum seekers in its 27 member states. Adoption will be completed with a vote in the Council of the European Union expected at the end of April.

The pact requires the establishment of border centers for the reception and processing of asylum seekers and speeds up the deportation procedure for those deemed inadmissible. This shift towards more rigid border procedures has caused concern among human rights organizations, which warn of increasing human suffering and erosion of the fundamental right to apply for asylum.

The reform, which has been almost a decade in the making, introduces a “solidarity mechanism” that allows countries to opt out of taking in asylum seekers and make financial contributions instead.

This mechanism, which initially met with resistance, including from Sweden, was eventually accepted by several member states that wanted to mitigate their responsibilities under the new system.

Turkish nationals, whose recognition rate has fallen to around 15 percent in 2024, are among those who will be affected by the pact’s strict measures.

The reform’s “border procedure” provides for people from countries with a recognition rate of less than 20 percent to undergo an accelerated and less comprehensive asylum procedure. This could have a significant impact on Turkish asylum seekers, who have seen an increase in applications but a decrease in recognition rates in recent years, which means that Turkish nationals may have to be held in border camps for 12 weeks as the bill stipulates.

According to Eurostat, the number of Turkish nationals applying for asylum in the EU rose to 89,970 in 2023, making Turkey the third largest country of origin for asylum applications in the EU.

However, the increase in applications from Turkish nationals is accompanied by rising rejection rates. Germany, an important destination country for Turkish asylum seekers, reported a rejection rate of 60.3 percent for 2023.

The recognition rate of Turkish asylum seekers, which had risen between 2016 and 2019, has fallen steadily since then, from 54 percent in 2019 to 28 percent in the first half of 2023.

The human rights organization Civil Rights Defenders criticized the new pact because it could increase the number of children and adults detained and relies on substandard asylum procedures. Martin Nyman, a senior legal advisor to the organization, expressed fears that the EU’s approach would exacerbate the plight of people fleeing war and persecution, saying, “People will be prevented from seeking and receiving protection.”

The reform has also been criticized for potentially leading to increased detention at the EU’s external borders, even for vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied minors and families with children. In addition, member states can now request exemptions from certain asylum rules in times of crisis, further jeopardizing the use of substandard procedures at borders.

The pact stipulates the increased use of biometric data, including fingerprints and facial images of children as young as 6 years old, which raises ethical and data protection concerns.

Despite the backlash, the EU believes the reform is a necessary step to manage migration flows more effectively and share responsibility for asylum seekers among member states. However, critics argue that it represents a significant step backwards from the principles of protection and solidarity that the EU has long advocated.

The pact is due to come into force in 2026, after the European Commission sets out detailed guidelines for its implementation. As the EU prepares for these changes, the impact on asylum seekers from Turkey and other affected countries remains a critical issue for advocates and policymakers alike.

Since a failed coup in 2016 that led to a widespread crackdown on dissent by the Turkish government, the number of Turkish nationals seeking asylum in Germany and other Western European countries has seen a significant increase.

An ongoing economic crisis in the country caused by skyrocketing inflation, which stands at close to 70 percent, and the constant depreciation of the Turkish lira is also prompting some Turks to seek ways to leave the country for a better life in Europe.

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