The EU-Turkey refugee deal which came into effect on March 20, 2016 prioritises Syrian refugees over those from other nationalities. Since then, the official asylum channels to Europe for non-Syrians have been entirely cut off. As a result, tensions have been running high in the refugee camps in Greece as migrants are unsure about their future. There have been multiple reports of scuffles breaking out between Syrians and non-Syrians.
As per the deal, irrespective of nationality or urgency, all the asylum seekers landing on the European shores coming from Turkey are now being sent back to Turkey. The deal is that for every Syrian refugee sent back to Turkey, another – whose claims are found valid – will be resettled in Europe. According to a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report on April 11, 2016, of the approximate 10 million total refugees stranded in Turkey, 2.7 million are Syrians. The collective deportation of several hundred people every day is being carried out by Frontex, Europe’s border police, with Turkish assistance.
Debt-ridden Greece has been facing the highest influx of refugees trying to enter Europe through the Aegean Sea route. Despite lacking both money and manpower, the major responsibility of implementing this deal has been thrust upon the Greeks. The most senior Greek asylum official, Maria Stavropoulou told The Guardian recently that she would need a 20-fold increase in personnel to handle expected claims. The EU had promised to send 2,300 experts to Greece but only about 200 had arrived as of April 10.
As per the deal, “all new irregular migrants” arriving after March 20, 2016, are to be deported. However, human rights watchdogs and independent news sources have reported that everyone is being deported. This includes refugees who have been coming in every day in addition to the refugees who have not yet been granted asylum in Greece. Further, there are reports of deportation of refugees whose appeal hearings are still pending.
In return for this deal, Turkey has been given monetary and political incentives: the EU has promised Turkey an aid package of over €6bn and visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens. To carry out this deal, the EU has come up with the legal fiction of declaring Turkey a “safe third country”. According to news reports, Turkey has been sending refugees back to their home countries, which is in direct contravention of the policy of ‘non-refoulement’ – a legal principle stating that a refugee cannot be returned back to a place deemed unsafe for him or her.
Given the Turkish government’s dismal track record regarding human rights, it will have a hard time convincing the sceptics of its sincerity. Even after the EU aid is taken into consideration – which Turkey has termed “insufficient” – the refugee crisis could be the proverbial ‘albatross around the neck’ for all parties involved.
Declaring the EU-Turkey deal illegal, UNHCR has withdrawn support to the major “detention centers” in Greece from where the refugees are being sent to Turkey. UNHCR has reasoned that expelling refugees collectively without hearing their individual applications is in direct contravention of established international law (Article 19, Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union). Further, according to the Geneva Convention of 1951, it is completely illegal for a country to discriminate between refugees on the basis of race, religion or the country of origin.
The endless waiting line – now rumoured to be 72,000 strong – and the unacceptable living conditions of the camps highlight an EU policy that ostensibly promotes a concern for welfare but is ultimately ineffectual. For many, this deal represents nothing but another form of displacement backed by coercive border control, detention and measures for illegal deportation. This denial of justice demonstrates the EU’s indifferent attitude.