Juncker's EU common list of safe countries of origin raises questions

By including Turkey, which has repeatedly been condemned for armed conflict and human rights violations, Juncker's proposed common EU list of safe countries of origin raises as many questions as answers. 

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

17 Sep 2015

As the EU scrambles to find solutions to the growing refugee crisis, in his state of the union speech last week, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for the creation of a list of 'common EU safe countries of origin'.

According to a Commission document, a safe country of origin is one where there is; "a democratic system and generally and consistently, no persecution, no torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, no threat of violence and no armed conflict."

EU asylum applications from citizens of countries belonging to the list would be fast-tracked, "allowing for faster returns" where their application was rejected.

Currently, 12 member states - Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Slovakia and the UK - have their own national lists of safe countries of origin. 

Juncker has now suggested creating a single common EU list. This would include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. Countries could be added to the list later, while others could be suspended from it - with immediate effect - in the event that they were no longer considered safe.


The proposal has come under fire from human rights campaigners, with Amnesty International's Iverna McGowan underlining that, "refugee status is determined by individual circumstances, meaning no country of origin can be deemed 'safe'."

"The EU must stop looking for ways to keep people out, and increase ways for people in need of international protection to access it safely and legally."

Additionally, it seems anomalous to include Turkey on a list of countries where there is 'no persecution' and 'no armed conflict'. Government security forces and the Kurdistan's Workers' Party (PKK) have been engaged in a decades-long conflict, which was reignited last July and has reportedly since resulted in the deaths of over 100 people.

The Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in the country. The PKK is considered to be a terrorist organisation by Nato, the US and the Turkish government. 

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch's 2015 report on Turkey explains that, "corruption allegations in December 2013 implicating the government, with Istanbul prosecutors ordering scores of arrests, were followed by politically damaging leaked telephone calls supporting the allegations being circulated on social media."

"In response, the government intensified its interference in the criminal justice system, reassigning judges, prosecutors and police, attempting to exert greater executive control over Turkey's already politicised judiciary, and clamping down on internet freedom."

"The clampdown included a rise in broadcasting watchdog disciplinary fines, applied selectively to anti-government media, criminal defamation cases against journalists, the firing of some prominent journalists, and blocking orders on particular accounts and content on social media."

"Through these measures, the government is impeding the ability or likelihood of media to hold government authorities to account or to scrutinise their activities."

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group chair Gianni Pittella, said his group, "underlines that fundamentalism and nationalism are totally incompatible with European values. We condemn inflammatory rhetoric against Kurdish people, and urge the Turkish government to take the necessary measures to guarantee fundamental rights, particularly the freedom of expression to all Turkish citizens, media freedom and pluralism, in line with European standards."

Currently, Bulgaria is the only member state that considers Turkey a safe country of origin; meanwhile last year, 23.1 per cent of asylum applications from Turkish citizens were deemed well-founded. 

Manolis Kefalogiannis, chair of Parliament's delegation to the EU-Turkey joint parliamentary committee, told this website that, "the European Parliament, in its recently adopted Resolution on Turkey's progress report, was highly critical of Turkey's violations in the areas of the judiciary and fundamental rights and of justice, freedom and security. This must surely be taken into account."

Takis Hadjigeorgiou, a vice-chair of the delegation, stressed that, "at the root of the refugee crisis are wars led or tolerated by the west - including some EU countries. Europe needs a radical overhaul of EU immigration policy that includes a new legal migration package. Therefore, the Commission's list of safe countries is only a mere ad-hoc response to the problem."

"As such, it gives some countries on the list - such as Turkey - as 'blank cheque' to play it 'safe' in one context, i.e., handling the refugee crises, but not 'safe' in another, for example in terms of lack of democratisation and violation of human rights."

European Conservatives and Reformists group MEP Anders Vistisen, said, "Turkey is an EU candidate country that fulfils the Copenhagen criteria - it guarantees democracy, rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities."

"Moreover, one member state already designates it as a safe country of origin. The criteria are fair. Besides, were the situation to deteriorate, the Commission could suspend Turkey from the list."

EU leaders are set to discuss the implementation of the common EU list of safe countries of origin during next month's summit.



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