In April 2015, a special meeting of the European Council called for Europe to step up cooperation with Turkey to address the refugee crises that were emerging as a result of the situations in Syria and Iraq. Over the following months, European leaders worked closely with Turkey in an attempt to establish measures that would stem the flow of asylum seekers and refugees through Turkey into Europe, leading to the adoption of a Joint Action Plan in late 2015. The two priorities of this plan were supporting Syrians receiving temporary protection in Turkey, and strengthening cooperation to prevent irregular migration flows to the EU from Turkey.

These efforts were not enough, and by early 2016 it was estimated that Greece was receiving 2,000-3,000 new arrivals every day, almost all from Turkey, many of them Syrian refugees. To address the escalating crisis, EU leaders and Turkey reached a new agreement on 18 March 2016, providing for:

  • all 'new irregular migrants' crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands from 20 March 2016 to be returned to Turkey (although people wishing to apply for asylum might still be able to do so through a Greek process, in accordance with EU law); 
  • the EU to resettle one Syrian refugee in Turkey for every one Syrian returned from Greece, with priority given to people who had not previously entered or tried to enter the EU irregularly; and
  • Turkey to take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for illegal migration opening from Turkey to the EU; and
  • Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU ended or were 'substantially and sustainably reduced', a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme to be activated for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

The new agreement began to be implemented with the first returns from Greece to Turkey on 4 April 2016. The Joint Action Plan and the new agreement of March 2016 are each explored below. Since the second half of 2016, the implementation of this deal has become a source of increasing diplomatic tensions between the EU and Turkey.


The Kaldor Centre plays a vital role in developing legal, sustainable and humane solutions for displaced people around the world.