Three months into the EU-Turkey deal, which European governments are claiming as a success, people in need of protection are left counting its true human cost. On the Greek Islands, more than 8,000 people, including hundreds of unaccompanied minors, have been stranded as a direct consequence of the EU-Turkey deal. They have been living in dire conditions, in overcrowded camps, sometimes for months. They fear a forced return to Turkey yet are deprived of essential legal aid, their one defense against collective expulsion. The majority of these families, whom Europe has legislated out of sight, have fled conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“For months MSF has spoken out about a shameful European response focused on deterrence rather than providing people with the assistance and protection they need,” said Jerome Oberreit, International Secretary General of Médecins Sans Frontières. “The EU-Turkey deal goes one step further and has placed the very concept of “refugee” and the protection it offers in danger.”
Last week the European Commission unveiled a new proposal to replicate the EU-Turkey logic across more than 16 countries in Africa and the Middle East. These deals would impose trade and development aid cuts on countries that do not stem migration to Europe or facilitate forcible returns, rewarding those that do. Among these potential partners are Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan – four of the top ten* refugee generating countries.
“Is Europe’s only offer to refugees that they stay in countries they are desperate to flee? Once again, Europe’s main focus is not on how well people will be protected, but on how efficiently they are kept away,” said Oberreit.
The EU-Turkey deal sets a dangerous precedent for other countries hosting refugees, sending a message that caring for people forced from their homes is optional and that they can buy their way out of providing asylum. Last month, the Kenyan Government cited European migration policy to justify their decision to close the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab, sending its residents back to Somalia. Likewise, the deal does nothing to encourage countries surrounding Syria, already hosting millions of refugees, to open their borders to those in need.
“Europe’s attempt to outsource migration control is having a domino effect, with closed borders stretching all the way back to Syria. People increasingly have nowhere to turn,” said Oberreit. “Will the situation in Azaz where 100,000 people are blocked between closed borders and front lines become the rule, rather than the deadly exception?
The EU-Turkey deal’s financial package includes one billion euros in humanitarian aid. There are undoubtedly needs in Turkey, a country which currently hosts close to three million Syrian refugees, but this aid has been negotiated as a reward for border control promises, rather than being based solely on needs. This instrumentalisation of humanitarian aid is unacceptable.
“Deterrence policies sold to the public as humanitarian solutions have only exacerbated the suffering of people in need. There is nothing remotely humanitarian about these policies. It cannot become the norm and must be challenged,” said Oberreit. “MSF will not receive funding from institutions and governments whose policies do so much harm. We are calling on European governments to shift priorities - rather than maximizing the number of people they can push back, they must maximize the number they welcome and protect.”
NOTES TO EDITORS:
* UNHCR Mid-Year Trends Report 2015 available online at: http://www.unhcr.org/statistics/unhcrstats/56701b969/mid-year-trends-june-2015.html
MSF has been providing assistance to people crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe since 2002. In the last 18 months alone MSF medics have treated an estimated 200,000 men, women and children in Europe and on the Mediterranean Sea. The organisation is currently caring for refugees and migrants in Greece, Serbia, France, Italy and on the Mediterranean as well as in countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
MSF’s activities are mainly (92%) privately funded. Nevertheless, the organization is also involved in some financial partnerships for specific programmes with institutional donors. In 2015, funding from EU institutions represented 19 million euros, while funding from Member States represented 37 million euros. MSF also used 6.8 millions euros received from the Norwegian Government. In 2016, in addition to ECHO, MSF is involved in partnerships with nine European Member States: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.