Prior to the meeting, some of the points of action agreed by human rights organizations, including ECRE, were described as “immoral,” “dangerous” and “illegal”. These include the point of action on the return to Turkey of all irregular migrants arriving in Greece after 20 March 2016 and the resettlement of a Syrian refugee from Turkey in the EU for every Syrian repatriated from Greece to Turkey. The agreement also states that “Turkey will take all necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for the opening of illegal immigration from Turkey to the EU and will cooperate in this regard with neighbouring countries and the EU.” There were a number of legal conflicts when refugees fought against the idea that Turkey was a safe country in which they should be sent. Greek courts have often ruled in favour of the complainants because Turkey is unable to offer effective protection and because it has repeatedly deported people to conflict zones such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The 2016 coup attempt and subsequent forced state of emergency have put migrants and asylum seekers at increased risk of refoulement. Despite all this, the AGREEMENT between the EU and Turkey is maintained. Thousands of people are still trapped on the Greek islands, in a state of legal suspension. Under the agreement, the centre of gravity of “hotspots” in the Greek islands will shift from “registration and verification before rapid transfer to the mainland” to “implementation of returns to Turkey,” including increased retention capacity at facilities. Shortly after the agreement came into force and the hotspots were converted into closed detention centres, some organizations put at least some of their activities in the centres, including UNHCR, MSF, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee and OXFAM. While the first path is deeply tempting for policy makers, violating Europe`s human rights obligations in such a visible way could in the long run prove even more costly than the current chaos in Greece. Heads of state and government are well aware of the risk. In the days leading up to the final agreement, the European Union withdrew sharply from the rhetoric of creating a “large-scale mechanism for the return of irregular migrants” to an assessment process respecting the asylum rights of everyone arriving in Greece.
Strong opposition from refugee organizations and other human rights organizations confirmed this, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which highlighted long-standing international bans on collective expulsion or blanket returns. But the speed and unassuming nature of the implementation can lead to setting aside the rules in favour of opportunity. At the European Council on 18 March, EU heads of state and government reached an agreement with Turkey, known as the EU-Turkey agreement.