(CN) – Three refugees who made it to the European Union via Turkey can’t challenge an informal agreement that could see them returned to Turkey because the measure was never formally adopted by any EU institutions, the European General court ruled Tuesday.
The crux of the case brought by two Pakistani nationals and an Afghan national who entered Greece through Turkey and sought asylum in the EU centers on apparent misinformation involved in announcing the EU-Turkey Statement. The 2016 agreement – meant to address the refugee crisis and combat human trafficking between Turkey and Greece – was published in press release form on a website shared by the European Council and the Council of the European Union.
Under the supposed agreement, all undocumented immigrants crossing from Turkey to Greece would be immediately returned to Turkey. Those seeking asylum would remain in Greece unless their applications were rejected, and for every Syrian refugee that was returned to Turkey another Syrian refugee would be resettled from Turkey to the European Union.
The three refugees sought asylum and then sued to block the EU-Turkey Statement, fearing they would end up back in Turkey if their applications were rejected. They claimed the agreement ran afoul of EU law since it amounts to an international agreement that the European Council had no authority to make on the EU’s behalf.
For its part, the European Council – the body charged with defining the EU’s overall political direction and made up of the heads of government from the 28 member states – argued the Luxembourg-based court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case at all. On Tuesday, the court agreed and dismissed the case.
Although the press release announcing the EU-Turkey Statement said the EU had made the agreement with Turkey – something it cannot do – the court said evidence shows the agreement was made by member states’ heads of government and their Turkish counterpart, as actors under international law.
“Neither the European Council nor any other institution of the EU decided to conclude an agreement with the Turkish government on the subject of the migration crisis,” the court wrote. “The court declares that it lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine the actions brought by the three asylum seekers.”
The court also noted that every EU institution denies that anything actually came out of the EU-Turkey Statement, and that it was never formally adopted. But even if it had been, the court said it would have been an international agreement concluded by member states that cannot be reviewed by an EU court.
The court’s opinion was not made available by press time.