So, Europe. I didn’t think that I could get more disappointed. Now maybe that’s unfair; disappointment usually comes with expectations, and I shouldn’t have had any expectations in the first place. But still, Europe. I’m still waiting for someone to tell me that I’ve misunderstood everything, or that this is just a bad dream (which is very much less likely than the first alternative, which is actually possible).
A deal was signed between EU and Turkey 5 days ago, on the 18th of March. What it actually means, I honestly don’t know. I don’t even know if anyone knows. I only know that it created chaos over one night. A friend called from one of the Greek islands. This is not a camp, this is a prison, they said. They are cold, they don’t have blankets. They are hungry – they’re queuing for food but the food always runs out before they reach it. There is a kiosk just a few meters away, but they are not allowed to go outside. No one is there to help them, and no one knows what is happening. Protests. Violence. I don’t know what is happening, I don’t recognise this description. I googled. Internet barely seems to know what is happening.
Most volunteers and NGOs left the refugee camps, as these suddenly turned into detention centers. Some of them were forced to leave, others left as a statement to show their disapproval with the development. Volunteers and NGOs, who had been providing food, clothes, healthcare and moral-mental support in these areas for months and months. I read that the military is now controlling the areas, I see pictures of misery. I hear about how refugees who have fled war and persecution, who have just crossed the Aegean Sea in a dinghy boat, are arrested after they’ve been pulled out from the water. As if they haven’t been through enough trauma.
I want to hear that these are only false rumours, exaggerations, but I’m afraid they are not. Finding verified information is extremely difficult. What I know though, is that the EU-Turkey agreement has been heavily criticised by not the least Amnesty, Medecins Sans Frontiers and the UNHCR. It has been criticised by every person and organisation I know of, who is trying to help the refugees and improve their conditions. But okay, what is this agreement actually about?
For one, the return of ”all irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek Islands” back to Turkey, which will be done ”in full compliance with EU and international law, thus excluding any kind of collective expulsion”. To my ears, the ”return of all” already sounds like collective expulsion, but what do I know, I’m only a layman. Now, the deal goes on describing how the right to apply for asylum in Greece still withholds. However, if Turkey is seen as a safe third country, they will be deported back to Turkey. Whether Turkey is really a safe third country or not is debatable, but most probably it will be considered such in a majority of cases.
For the one who cares, my train of thoughts went from ”everyone will be deported” to ”wait, if everyone gets deported, who is applying for asylum?” to ”oh, so only the ones who don’t register will be deported” to ”all pretty words are empty words”. I still don’t know what is happening, but let me just expect the worst.
Moving on with that train, what does Turkey get ”in return” for watching their borders more closely, and taking back the refugees who had crossed to Greece? As you see, I’m assuming that few countries actually want to take responsibility for people who need protection, without anything in return. Turkey gets 3 billion euros, development towards visa free travel within Schengen and maybe a brighter outlook on EU membership. Also, for every Syrian sent back from Greece to Turkey, one person will be resettled from a Turkish camp to an European country.
Let me see if I got that right. The number of resettlement opportunities for Syrian refugees in Turkey will depend on the number of people risking their lives in small inflatable boats across the Aegean Sea. We are trading with people’s lives and desperation. What is the price of one resettlement spot? What do you want, Europe, what do you want? So, if Europe wants resettlement, Europe want more people to cross the sea. Which Europe actually doesn’t want, which is why there are measures taken against human smugglers, and which is why Europe is sending the people back. Uhum.
Europe, you want refugees to stay away from your borders, I understand. If this plan is successful, the number of irregular crossings will stop. Smugglers will be caught, refugees will be deterred from going. Well, I don’t think that will happen. People are desperate. People are not risking their lives for fun, not today, not ever. Maybe, it will be more dangerous. More expensive. More lives lost. Is that what you want, Europe? Also, I should mention that this trade of refugees does not seem to apply for other nationalities, such as Afghans and Iraqis, who constituted about 50% of all arrivals to Lesvos last month.
Sorry, I got carried away. Back to the resettlement spots; there will be a limit of 72’000 guaranteed spots in total, as I understood it because the EU countries did not want to enter the deal and leave this open. Fair enough. 72’000 people is a lot. In October last year, over 135’000 people arrived. To one Greek island. Just saying. And Turkey. Is Turkey, who has not even fully adopted the refugee convention, going to take care of all the refugees fleeing from the neighbouring countries? I don’t know if Europe actually thinks that Turkey can handle this better than European countries can, or if Europe is happy as long as they don’t have to think too much about it, regardless of the consequences in their backyard.
This reminds me of two things actually.
First: The Dublin Regulation. I could not understand how the Dublin regulation (refugee seekers should apply for asylum in the first EU/Schengen country that they arrive to, eg Italy) could exist. Once, we went for a study visit to the Migration Board. We spoke to the communication officer; I asked so many questions that they must’ve hated me. ”Can you please explain how the Dublin Regulation is a good idea?” I asked, and the lady could not answer. I was surprised, I had expected some kind of excuse at least. They must have been asked this question before? Anyhow, I suppose the EU-Turkey deal has a similar rationale.
Second: This reminds me of what is happening in Sweden right now. The government is proposing changes to reduce the number of asylum seekers in Sweden, for example through temporary instead of permanent residency permits, decreased possibility of family reunification and abolition of two other acceptance groups (I don’t know how I should describe it in English..). These suggestions has received heavy criticism from most experts within the area, everyone from Amnesty to the Employment Service to the Children’s Ombudsman. Will the government carry it through anyways? The one who lives will see, as we say in Swedish.
Meanwhile, innocent people continue to suffer.
Disclaimer: I like law, but I’m not sure law likes me. Feel free to prove me wrong on above mentioned points. Please do, for once I might be happy to be wrong.