A year ago, when the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement was signed, we said, “this agreement is an official human trafficking agreement. By closing its borders, thus blocking the land routes for refugees, Europe has pushed the refugees to the sea, to a path to death.” It was not enough that people were dying in the seas, that now with this deal, they want to kill the refugees’ hopes to live! With this agreement, the EU is trying to stop the refugees from fighting for their lives and to paralyze them! Today, we are witnessing how humanity and the hopes of people who are stripped off everything but their lives clash with the calculations of the prosperous West. We said, “we should never forget this deal and ensure it goes down in history as a deal of shame.”
Now it has been one year since the deal has been implemented. Back then, there were about 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey and many were trying to cross to Europe through the Balkans. The agreement designated Turkey to become a buffer country keeping the refugees outside of the EU borders and to become an open-air prison. In February 2016, NATO ships were sent to Turkey’s shores to prevent passage through the Aegean Sea! In fact, the EU has been executing war politics against immigrants and refugees. These war measures have significantly reduced refugee transits in the Aegean Sea to Europe.
Since 10 March, 2016, refugees who had crossed from Turkey to Greece, have been kept on the Greek islands and forced to wait for their return to Turkey.
For every Syrian refugee sent back to Turkey, one Syrian refugee from the Turkish camps was supposed to be resettled to the EU member states and this exchange was meant to cover 72,000 refugees.
In fact, this agreement was completely in breach with international law and many refugees appealed to the Greek courts with justified arguments, such as “Turkey cannot not be defined as a safe third country”, or “I do not want to be sent back, I demand that my asylum application must be accepted here.” Unfortunately, the Greek judges rejected the demands. The refugees have been trying to appeal these decisions, but the appeals cases at the Greek Supreme Courts have not yet been concluded.
Today, the EU seems content about the agreement thinking it managed to get the refugee migration outside of its borders under control. It even wants to use it as a model for other countries, such as Libya or in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is trying, in particular, to make a similar deal with Libya for the Central Mediterranean Migration Route.
After the deal, the crossings from Turkey to Greece have actually showed a dramatic decline by 98%. With the fact that refugee deaths in the Aegean Sea have declined, the EU is trying to legitimize this agreement. Approximately 70 people have died or got lost in the Aegean Sea since the agreement. This number was 1,100 in the period of 2015-2016. However, with the EU’s closure of the Aegean Sea route, refugee transits and deaths on the Central Mediterranean route, which is much riskier and more lethal, have increased. Nobody talks about the 649 people who have died on this route in the first three months…
It is clear that Turkey is not a safe third country for asylum seekers and refugees: Turkey is not giving refugee status to anyone outside of Europe. 3.5 million Syrians are under temporary protection – a guest status – in Turkey. The situation of the hundreds of thousands of people from other countries is even worse. No refugee application is accepted. Moreover, Turkish law does not allow people who are not of Turkish descent or culture to settle in Turkey. These two conditions make it impossible for Turkey to be a safe third country within international law. By declaring Turkey as a safe third country and aiming to keep migration outside of EU borders, the EU – under the leadership of Germany and the Netherlands – has ignored human rights and EU values and law.
Without lifting the geographical limitation of the 1951 Geneva Convention and making changes in the law, Turkey cannot develop protection, settlement, integration, and naturalization for the Syrians. Everyone, above all the EU, knows this!
On the other hand, even if the numbers decrease, the crossings and deaths in the Aegean Sea continue.
When the refugees could not resolve their problems with the Greek justice system, they turned to the EU judicial authorities for the injustices they have experienced under the agreement. However, the EU General Court did not accept the case. It was said that the agreement has not yet been ratified by the European Parliament and is therefore not an EU agreement! Even this is clear proof of the EU’s political manoeuvring around human rights.
According to the figures of the European Commission, 1,487 people have been returned from Greece in one year. Only 3,565 Syrians were relocated from Turkey to EU countries. The fact that this low figure cannot compare to the total target of 72,000 people shows that the agreement is not working. Moreover, given the fact that there are 3.5 million Syrians in Turkey, it is clear that there is no shared responsibility regarding the agreement and that Europe is reluctant to even admit the small group of 72,000 people.
To put it simply, no country besides Germany, France and the Netherlands, accepts EU refugee quotas, and the EU does not exert pressure on its Member States. The agreement is completely blocked in this direction.
The other great tension is experienced in Turkey-EU relations. Turkey was supposed to benefit from this deal in two ways: 1) Turkey’s EU membership negotiations – which had been shelved for a long time – were to be revitalized, and 2) Turkey was to receive a 3-billion-Euro pay-out to care for the refugees. Staying on the road to the EU is one thing, but it is ironic that nowadays, the President proposed to have a referendum on giving up EU candidacy for good. The issue of visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens is not even mentioned anymore. It is said that the European Commission will give 1.5 million Euros for 39 projects in Turkey for 2016-17, but this information is not openly and transparently shared with the public.
What is mostly happening is that the refugees become the matter of dirty political bargains and threats. With daily statements like “beware or we will send the refugees”, the lives of the refugees are played with.
This deal stripped the refugees off their rights to make their case. This is the most important and brutal outcome.
Human rights and EU values, if there were any, have greatly eroded. The policy of keeping the refugee issue outside of the EU borders is an attack on rights-based politics.
This agreement concerns only Syrian refugees, but has paved the way for aggravating the situation of refugees from other countries.
To conclude, this agreement is as embarrassing today as it was one year ago on the day it was signed.
Day by day, the parties have been gradually departing from human rights.
The EU has closed its eyes to sharing responsibility for the situation of refugees in Turkey.
The EU does not care about the facts, that refugees in Turkey live as guests under a temporary protection regime, that they do not have permanent residence permits, that they do not have refugee status, that only 10,000 of them have official documents and insurance with limited working permits, whereas the remaining hundreds of thousands work unregistered and uninsured as cheap labourers under hard conditions, that women are married off as 2nd or 3rd wives, or forced to prostitution by crime organizations, that child labour has significantly increased, that 400,000 Syrian school-aged children are not in school, that there are 400,000 undocumented Syrian babies born in Turkey, and that 3.5 million Syrians experience problems with access to accommodation and health care!
The deal has negatively affected the Turkey-EU relations.
There is yet no lasting peace in Syria and the migration out of Syrian will continue. Furthermore in 2016, Turkey prevented Syrians from crossing into Turkey; 424,641 people were picked up on the Turkish-Syrian border. The building of a 911-km-long wall is in process and is planned to be completed by the end of the year. The EU’s policy of militarizing the borders set a bad example for Syrian’s neighbouring countries. Only two out of eighteen transit points on the Turkish-Syrian border are still open and only seriously ill Syrians are taken into Turkey for medical care. So far, there has not been a serious return movement from Turkey to Syria. Only 23, 926 Syrians returned to Jarabulus in 2016.
With 4 million refugees, Turkey has become the largest refugee-hosting country in the world. Day by day, this situation has been negatively affecting the country’s domestic politics, economy, and foreign policy, and with no permanent and sustainable solution in sight, the refugees will continue to be used as political pawns.
The EU has not offered any humanitarian solution to the refugees. The problem remains as it is without any change. It is only addressed partially and kept outside of EU borders for the time being.
Human rights violations against refugees on Greece’s mainland as well as islands have been hurting the EU’s reputation. The EU is facing serious problems regarding its reputation and future. By closing their national borders and not taking in refugees, the EU’s member states are not acting according the Union’s spirit and laws.
Things to do:
1. The proxy wars of the imperialist states in Syria must end and a lasting peace must be established.
2. The EU and other international institutions, the United States, the European states etc., especially the states militarily active in Syria, should accept and share responsibilities towards the refugees.
3. The EU countries need to abandon the rhetoric and politics defining immigrants and refugees as “internal enemies”, and not to surrender to policies of recent years that serve increasingly as a form of neo-racism discriminating against certain cultures, ethnicities, and religions. The EU member states’ politics to protect against so-called “illegal immigration” is not working and threatens not only the lives of immigrants and refugees but also the future of the EU and the democratic foundations and human rights of its Member States.
4. Borders must be opened for refugees and immigrants and a safe passage must be provided.
5. Turkey should grant refugee status to all refugees from Syria and other countries.
6. To those who want it, a pathway to citizenship should be provided.
7. To ensure social integration, a safe legal status, such as permanent residence permit, the closest thing to citizenship, needs to be provided. Other areas of social integration need to be addressed as well, such as work life, family reunification, education, health, shelter, fight against discrimination, the ability to live out one’s own identity and culture, and the right to political participation.
8. The EU-Turkey relationship must no longer be based on dirty bargaining about refugees, and instead be continued on open and transparent grounds of progress in democracy and human rights.