Described by Amnesty International as “abhorrent”, the controversial EU Turkey deal which will essentially see a ‘trade off’ of refugees comes into effect this month. But what is it, and why should we join Amnesty’s fight to oppose it?
First of all, why do Syrians come to Europe?
Imagine, just for a second, that your country is being destroyed by war, or by famine or because of political or social oppression. You live in perpetual fear; your future and the future of your family is worryingly uncertain. You are forced to leave the country that you love. You are left with no. other. choice.
Many media outlets inconsistently and more often than not inaccurately refer to refugees as “migrants”. This label may seem harmless, but it fails to convey the grave danger that refugees face and the life-threatening situation they have inadvertently found themselves in. We all saw the heart-breaking picture of Aylan Kurdi, the baby washed up on a Turkish beach; we are bombarded with harrowing images of people risking their lives and the lives of their families to escape the seemingly endless war that has torn their world apart. Far from being economic chancers who fancy their luck defrauding European benefits systems, refugees are desperate and they are desolate. We were all, rightly, horrified by terrorist attacks in Paris and in Brussels, but what we often fail to understand is that Syrians face this same terror every single day. Our compassion should extend to non-Europeans.
I often see people asking why, if these people are so desperate to escape the conflict in Syria, they do not simply stay in neighbouring Lebanon or Jordan. The simple answer is that they do. Recent data from The International Spectator (@intlspectator) reveals that, per 1000 citizens, there are 232 refugees in Lebanon and 87 in Jordan, compared to just 2 in the UK and 0.9 in the United States. Furthermore, data from the UNHCR and from Louis Doré’s article in The Independent shows that there are at least 4 million Syrian refugees living in nearby Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey or Iraq compared to just 429,000 Syrians who have applied to live in Europe since 2011.
Doré identifies 6 key reasons which explain why refugees risk everything to come specifically to Europe, the lesser known of which are: difficulties securing employment, lack of sufficient healthcare and education, and difficulty in renewing residency in Lebanon or Jordan. The lack of access to employment, according to Doré, leads to a dependence on informal employment or even prostitution, which makes refugees vulnerable to “exploitation, unsafe conditions or manipulative employers who withhold payment.” Refugees are also faced with chronic aid shortages, with those who are lucky enough to receive aid surviving on the equivalent of $0.45-50 per day (approximately £0.32). This, coupled with the complications in securing regular employment, has left many refugee families resorting to begging and child labour. Consequently, as many as 90,000 school-age Syrians are lacking in a formal education. Doré describes a dire and ever-worsening situation; his full article is well worth a read.
So, why do refugees want to leave Turkey and come to Greece?
An Amnesty International report – as quoted in an article for The Guardian by Constanze Letsch  – depicts the desperate situation in Turkey. The report explains how, although government-run camps are providing “essential services” to approximately 220,000 Syrian refugees, the remaining 85% (figures correct 2015) are living outside camps (due to massive overcrowding) and are therefore left to fend for themselves. This would be a difficult feat at the best of times, not least when faced with complex legal technicalities which prevent Syrians from securing safe, legal and regular employment.
Furthermore, “Turkey does not grant Syrians official refugee status”. Instead, refugees are afforded “temporary protection” which is not designed to ensure their long-term safety and well-being. Not only this, but there have been increasingly concerning reports of illegal activity at the hands of Turkish officials. Shockingly, Andrew Gardner of Amnesty International testifies that there has been evidence of “pushbacks into war-torn Syria” and “beating or shooting at refugees seeking safety”. These “pushbacks” are actually a violation of international law, as they contradict the non-refoulement principle. Letsch’s article also details how Amnesty’s report documents dozens of cases of Syrians who were “severely beaten, shot at and otherwise ill-treated by Turkish border guards” and at least 17 refugee deaths at the hands of officials. It is illegal, immoral and grossly inhumane.
Finally, then, what is the new EU-Turkey deal, why is it so bad, and what can we do to oppose it?
The deal essentially proposes an ‘exchange’. For every refugee who has attempted to cross the Aegean Sea (from Turkey to Greece) illegally and who is consequently returned to Turkey, a refugee who has not attempted this perilous crossing will be re-settled in Europe. Officials have argued that the deal is an effort to prevent the loss of life and aimed at deterring people-smugglers from exploiting desperate refugees. Once again, however, refugees are criminalised before they are pitied. Amnesty International describes the deal as “wrought with moral and legal flaws” not least because it would see “refugees and other migrants sent back to Turkey with no consideration of their asylum claims”.
In essence this would make “every resettlement place in Turkey dependent on another Syrian risking their life” – a sure-fire “erosion” of refugee rights. The deal is not only contributing to the dehumanising of refugees but it is completely devoid of morality. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the “one in, one out” deal will have a detrimental effect on families who have already lost everything. An article in The Guardian reveals the worrying statistics regarding unaccompanied refugee children, of which an estimated 10,000 are thought to be missing. Even more concerning is the fact that unaccompanied minors are extremely vulnerable to trafficking syndicates, slavery and sexual abuse. This EU-Turkey deal will undoubtedly result in an increase in the number of unaccompanied minors as more and more families are separated.
Furthermore, Turkey is not a full signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention (a legal document which defines refugees and their rights) and therefore Amnesty International attest that it “cannot be considered a ‘safe third country’”. This is especially important when considering non-Syrian refugees, who are not even granted the temporary protection afforded to Syrians. We must do more to ensure that refugees – who have already lost everything – are granted a safe environment in which they can live without fear and provided with food, water, support, healthcare and education. It is morally incomprehensible for the rest of Europe to shirk their responsibility and ignore their humanity.
So, what can we do to oppose this repugnant, ineffective and irrefutably inhumane deal?
Visit https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/bring-refugee-families-back-together-asylum-uk-reunion?from=issue to make your MP aware of this detestable situation.
What to find out more? Here are some useful links: