Ship asylum seekers back to Turkey, Netherlands tells EU

Asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean sea (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Vito Manzari)Asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean sea (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Vito Manzari)

Prime Minister Mark Rutte and PvdA leader Diederik Samsom came up with a plan to force the leading group of EU countries into a solution for the refugee crisis. Starting this spring, they want to take all asylum seekers who arrive in Greece via Turkey and send them back on a returning ferry.

In return, between 150 thousand and 250 thousand asylum seekers may legally come from Turkey to Europe every year, Samsom revealed to the Volkskrant on Thursday.

The goal for this so-called Samsom-plan is for the dangerous crossing on rickety boats to no longer make sense. All asylum seekers who arrive from Turkey on any of the Greek islands, will be sent back within a few days "by return ferry". According to Samsom, Turkey is almost at the point of getting the status of a safe country. "Then return is possible under UN agreements", he said to the newspaper.

Rutte and Samsom have been working on this plan from December. Rutte put officials from different EU countries together to formulate the plan legally and practically. Rutte is using his Prime Minister level contacts, and the Netherlands' current position as EU President, to get the plan off the ground. Finding a solution for the refugee crisis is one of the Netherlands' priorities as EU President. Samsom thinks there is a "realistic chance" that the new European asylum policy will be implemented in March or April.

The EU member states will not be forced to take in the between 150 thousand and 250 thousand asylum seekers legally entering Europe every year under this plan. According to Samsom, binding asylum quotas do not work. They will however have to share the costs. Samsom thinks that a leading group of about 10 countries will initially welcome the asylum seekers. These include, in addition to the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Austria, France, Spain, Italy and Portugal. The plan was already intensively discussed with Germany, Sweden and Austria.

The PvdA leader stressed that even if only 10 countries participate, the plan will mean considerably fewer asylum seekers than last year. For the Netherlands he predicts that the number will go down from 58 thousand in 2015 to between 20 and 30 thousand this year. "The numbers will be lower and more controllable."