The downward spiral of implementation of the EU-Turkey refugee accord has already begun, as expected, and it’s only been, what, a little more than a week since it went into effect. Already flimsy lies are being deployed to prop up the illusion that this is not only legal, but fair. But the news is getting out, and as more neutral and international organizations are reporting, the failure of the EU to support Greece (or the refugees, of course) with what they need is resulting in violence, misery, and frustration.
Here’s what we already know in the first ten days. First, what we knew before, which was the great doublespeak declaring Afghan refugees to be economic migrants with at most a declaration by the European powers, none of whose leaders would ever feel safe living in Kabul. We also know that the promised staff to provide basic needs in Greece as well as adjudication of asylum cases has not arrived in time. Nearly three hundred Greeks are in place, but of 800 internationals expected to be brought in to help, only 60 have arrived as of March 31st. (Hard to know what the problem is with their travel to Greece, while meanwhile hundreds of refugees daily are risking their lives to arrive in Greece.) There are badly overcrowded detention centers holding 4,000 refugees on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, and Samos (the last of which I visited in 2007), and in the past couple of days there have been violent outbursts in Chios, Samos, and also the port of Piraeus just outside of Athens, where there are almost 6,000 refugees camped out. The Chios uprising began in the detention center and culminated with the mass escape of detainees streaming out of the center. The New York Times also reports that Doctors Without Borders, the International Rescue Committee, and the U.N. High Commission on Refugees have stopped working in detention centers to protest the new agreement.
Some 52,000 refugees are stranded throughout Greece trying to cross borders into the Balkans en route to Western Europe, which is what all this is really about: keeping refugees and immigrants out of a Europe that has always been uncomfortable with perceived outsiders.
We also know that deportations back to Turkey will begin on April 4th, and the Greek parliament, which has a nominally left-wing, pro-refugee government (or so they claimed), voted to allow these deportations to commence. Of course the Greek government is somewhat over a barrel, because there is always the implicit threat that if they don’t follow the agreement, the wealthier European governments could also see to it that this would jeopardize their bailout and other needed support.
But worse, Amnesty International has just released a report stating that thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey have been forced back into Syria. Another report this week, from the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights charges that Turkish border police have been shooting Syrian refugees as they cross the border, with 16 deaths documented so far.
Finally, on the Turkish side, the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, repeated the claim that humanitarians shouldn’t worry because those being returned will be replaced one-for-one with other bona fide Syrian refugees already in Turkey (with preference for some reason given to those who haven’t tried to cross the border on their own already – a refugee version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, one could say). But this is less than a half-truth, because he omits the fact that there’s a 72,000 person cap on this transfer, so if more than that number of refugees are sent back to Turkey, they won’t be replaced.
Ironically, the President of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan has warned about the rise of Islamophobia in the U.S., when in fact his support of the EU-Turkey deal stokes European Islamophobic fears of fake asylum claims, higher crime, terrorism, and Islamicization of European law and culture, even as the deal will purportedly make it easier for Turks to get visas to Europe. (We’ll see about that.)
As if it weren’t apparent when signed, this agreement is revealing itself to be not only unworkable, which is bad enough, but based on illegality and lies: illegal mass deportations from Europe to Turkey, illegal deportations from Turkey to Syria, mass denials of legitimate refugee claims without due process, overcrowded detention centers, arbitrary caps on refugee admissibility, lack of adequate legal or humanitarian staffing, violence against refugees, and coercion against sovereign states to force them to change their laws to provide less human rights protection (in itself a stunning reversal of hundreds of years of moving towards greater human rights for all). This is a policy that was imposed by European leaders unwilling to provide sensible solutions and infrastructure in a time of world crisis, with no input from refugees themselves, and minimal input from international humanitarian organizations, violating international covenants and laws that, unfortunately, have never had enforcement mechanisms.
It is probably premature to say we are at the beginning of a legal free fall, but the longer the world takes to find a way to put the legal brakes on these abuses, the greater the human catastrophe and the greater the risk of dismantling international standards of refugee protection everywhere.
And deportations begin tomorrow…