Refugees International response to the EU Turkey deal

Today’s deal between the European Union and Turkey marks a troubling precedent in the search for a principled and effective response to the refugee crisis confronting Europe. While Refugees International recognizes that the agreement appears to consider elements of respect for the right to seek asylum in Greece, we are concerned with the provision that states that the EU will return all new irregular migrants, an apparent contradiction that must be clarified. Serious legal, ethical, and moral questions remain about the implementation of the deal.

“Rather than prioritize the needs of refugees and asylum seekers, EU and Turkish leaders have tossed them out in favor of their own geopolitical interests,” said Michel Gabaudan, President of Refugees International. “The deal basically allows Europe to wash its hands of any real commitment to refugee resettlement or relocation.”

The deal commits Greece to process asylum claims of those who reach its soil, in accordance with international law. It is imperative that this is well-staffed and resourced, in full cooperation with UNHCR. Some 85 percent of those arriving in Greece are from countries experiencing severe conflict: Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and a large majority, if properly processed, would undeniably qualify as refugees. Yet the deal has no provisions for the relocation of refugees from Greece to other EU countries.

The deal also sanctions legally-questionable practices of sending refugees and asylum seekers back to Turkey, which only acts to push the problem off of European shores. The so-called “one-to-one” provision – where one Syrian refugee will be resettled to the EU for every Syrian returned to Turkey – is yet another abdication of Europe’s responsibility. The 72,000 person cap on those who can be resettled in the EU is approximately the same number of people arriving in Greece each month, and pales in comparison to the nearly five million who are being hosted by Syria’s neighbors. Putting any cap on resettlement effectively ignores the real challenge of finding longer-term solutions to the unstoppable flow of refugees out of Syria.

“Rather than prioritize the needs of refugees and asylum seekers, EU and Turkish leaders have tossed them out in favor of their own geopolitical interests. The deal basically allows Europe to wash its hands of any real commitment to refugee resettlement or relocation.”
— Michel Gabaudan, President of Refugees International

The agreement also encourages Turkey to employ “any necessary measures” to stem the flow of migrants, an unfortunate terminology that suggests the urgency to quickly and dramatically reduce arrivals in Europe clearly outweighs serious commitments to respecting fundamental rights. Measures should be taken to expand safe and legal pathways for relieving both the burden on first asylum countries and the difficulties confronting refugees. Resettlement, work visas, student grants, and family reunification are needed to reduce incentives for refugees to make dangerous boat trips or to put their lives in the hands of smugglers. A larger resettlement program from the United States, the EU, and the Gulf states, is urgently needed.

RI welcomes the increased support for health, education, and infrastructure projects for Turkey as outlined in the deal, something for which we have long advocated. But in light of the deal's many other concerning provisions, we question the real commitment of the EU to finding lasting solutions for the millions of refugees attempting to seek a better life.