After several months of tensions with Turkey, EU Member States announced their willingness to renew the expired migration agreement in March 2021, while the EU Commission has already lined up an additional €585 million for a so-called “humanitarian bridge funding” for 2021. The continuous high-level meetings between the highest of European and Turkish institutions are a testimony to their strong interest in brokering a deal, though they also reflect underlying disputes which are yet to be settled.
The first 5 years’ pact between the UE and Turkey was built on a pragmatic compromise dictated by mutual interests: to stop irregular migration towards Europe, improve the living conditions of refugees in Turkey, and foster legal migration through the one-for-one Resettlement Scheme and the Visa-Free Movement programme for the Turkish population.
The Agreement certainly had a significant impact on limiting the number of arrivals. While nearly 861.630 people reached Greece in 2015, that number dropped to 36.310 the following year . Moreover, the number of missing persons in the Aegean Sea decreased from 441 cases in 2016 to 71 in 2019.
The narrative around the failure to implement other central elements of the deal varies significantly.
The repatriation of migrants to Turkey has sparked controversy. Migrants whose applications is declared inadmissible upon their illegal arrival on Greek islands should be re-admitted into Turkey, though that has only been the case for 2.140. As denounced by European NGOs, the consequences of the agreement and the array of policies designed to restrict the movement of asylum seekers led to shameful reception conditions in the Greek Islands where thousands of migrants live.
Moreover, since March 2020, Turkish authorities have suspended repatriation, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.For its part, Greece submitted a formal readmission request for 1.450 rejected asylum seekers in January 2021, which Turkey is yet to accept. Meanwhile, the EU boasts 28.300 resettlements, which is higher than the number of repatriations, though it is still a drop in the ocean of the nearly 3.7 million refugees that collectively make Turkey the first refugee-hosting country in the world.
The EU emphasizes its contribution to the improvement of reception facilities in Turkey with two flagship programs, which benefit over 2 million refugees. However, such programs have been criticized by both Erdoğan and European civil society at large. The former denounced that part of the €6 billion that had been previously pledged had not yet been transferred and that those expenses only cover a small part of the €35 billion spent on humanitarian programmes. The latter looks at “the attempt at collective willful blindness” with suspicion and demands more efforts be made to improve the harsh living conditions of refugees living in Turkey.
The EU’s Visa-Free movement for Turkish citizens — which has been openly disregarded — appears to be like a dog chasing its own tail. In an attempt to contrast the loss of internal consent by the section of the population hoping for liberalization, the Turkish have blamed this failure on restrictive European policies. For its part, the EU has inserted the unsatisfied implementation of re-admission agreement provisions among the security cooperation conditions requested to lift visa controls.
Renegotiation of the agreement
As a way to raise the stakes, Turkish authorities encouraged migrants to reach Europe in February 2020, with nearly 5.000 gathering to the Greek land border, living in deplorable conditions and sustaining clashes with the police. Though the situation at the frontier appears to have improved, many media outlets and NGOs are observing an increase in illicit returns across the Aegean Sea.
A hidden side of the renegotiations — with a pragmatic coincidence of interests and dramatic consequences — will be the complicated issue of Syrians’ repatriation and the willingness to create a “safe zone” in northern Syria.
Practices of forced and “voluntary” returns — in clear violation of international human rights — implemented by Turkish authorities have been documented and are reminiscent of the position taken by some EU countries, including Denmark, which has begun to revoke some of its Syrian refugees’ residency permits, insisting that some parts of the war-torn country are safe to return to.
What is lacking in this dialogue is the issue of human rights. Despite the securitization logic behind the EU’s “New Pact on Asylum and Migration” proposal and the practical cooperation for returns and border procedures, a political approach that does not take into consideration the needs of the refugee population deserving a better life is far from a long-term, durable solution.
 before slightly rising again to 74.613 in 2019.
 Caritas Europa, Amnesty International, DRC, Oxfam, Human rights Watch, Greek Council for refugees, IRC, RRE, “Five years after the EU-Turkey Statement, European Civil Society demands an end to containment and deterrence at the EU’s External Borders”, 18 march 2021
 only 139 returns in 2020.
 1.8 million refugees under the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) providing access to health care, education and socio-economic support, and 670.000 refugees under the Conditional Cash Transfer for Education (CCTE) program supporting school attendance https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/default/files/state_of_play_of_eu_turkey_relations_en.pdf
 by end-2020 the 65% has effectively been disbursed
 S. Sazak, Turkey Can’t Host Syrian Refugees Forever, Foreign Policy, 27 August 2019: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/08/27/turkey-cant-host-syrian-refugees-forever-erdogan-assad-idlib-hdp-chp-imamoglu/
 The EU response has been to pledge to pay 700 million euros in aid to the Greek government and the establishment of a mechanism for the relocation to the voluntary Member States, but only 3.809 of them were transferred to a dozen Member States until April 2021, out of over 5.100 quotas: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-security-greece-idUSKBN20O1EF
 A report of the German NGO Mare Liberum indicates nearly 9.798 people illegally repatriated to Turkey by the Greek authorities (with the involvement of Frontex) in 2020: https://daten.mare-liberum.org/s/4HdxAPACaPsqzEx#pdfviewer
 Amnesty International, Sent to a war zone- Turkey’s illegal deportations of Syrian refugees, 2019: https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR4411022019ENGLISH.pdf. EuroMed Rights, “Return Mania. Mapping policies and practices in the EuroMed region”, 2021: https://euromedrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/EN_Chapter-7-Turkey_Report_Migration.pdf
 1.2 million refugee children at school age in Turkey.