Ireland won't take any more refugees in deal
Published 19/03/2016 | 02:30
The EU and Turkey have finally inked an accord on how to control the numbers of migrants arriving in the bloc through the Greek islands.
After three summits and months of legal wrangling and political horse-trading, Turkey has said it will take back all illegal Syrian migrants arriving in Greece after midnight Sunday.
In exchange, EU leaders offered Turkey money to support Syrian refugees on its territory, visa-free access to the bloc from July and the partial unblocking of Ankara's stalled EU membership talks by June.
As part of the deal, the EU will take in one legally registered Syrian refugee for every illegal migrant Turkey takes back, up to a maximum of 72,000, and only for a limited time.
Once flows to the Greek islands are "substantially and sustainably reduced", EU leaders said they would look at resettling more Syrian refugees, but only on a voluntary basis.
Ireland will not take in any extra people as part of the deal, Enda Kenny confirmed yesterday, and will stick to a September 2015 pledge to rehouse 4,000 people from within and outside the EU.
However, he said he would consider "what, if any" help Ireland could offer Greece in terms of personnel to process asylum seekers that have already arrived on its shores.
The EU has been intent on locking down its external borders since the flow of migrants to the bloc skyrocketed to 1.2 million last year - most of them fleeing the civil war in Syria and reaching the EU across the Aegean Sea from Turkey. The flows have barely abated, with more than 156,000 people arriving already this year.
"This agreement alone is not going to resolve that crisis," the acting Taoiseach said.
"It will not stop people leaving Syria and it will not prevent people from wanting to come to Europe in the first place, but it should help to manage and diminish the flow of asylum seekers more effectively, also more humanely and obviously more fairly."
The deal, which was first outlined at an emergency summit on 7 March, was beset by legal, political and practical obstacles and looked to be in jeopardy until a breakthrough was reached on Friday afternoon.
The UN and other human rights organisations had criticised the first draft, saying that deporting migrants en masse back to Turkey would contravene international and EU law.
But EU leaders say they have circumvented legal challenges by treating asylum claims individually, offering the right of appeal to those whose claims are denied and refusing to turn away people in danger of persecution or death.
A second obstacle was Cyprus, which threatened to torpedo an accord over Turkey's EU membership talks, but a solution was found that partially unblocks the talks while pushing more contentious issues further down the line.
The resulting deal assures Turkey of €6bn between now and 2018 to upgrade Syrian refugee camps, and hinges on Ankara making a raft of legal changes to bring it into line with EU human rights and democratic standards.