EU: Human rights cost of refugee deal with Turkey too high to be replicated elsewhere
The EU-Turkey refugee deal has left thousands of refugees and migrants in squalid and dangerous living conditions, and must not be replicated with other countries, Amnesty International said today ahead of the deal’s one year anniversary.
The deal aimed at returning asylum-seekers back to Turkey on the premise that Turkey is safe for them, has left thousands exposed to squalid and unsafe conditions on Greek islands. In the new briefing “A Blueprint for Despair” Amnesty International also documented unlawful returns of asylum-seekers to Turkey in a flagrant breach of their rights under international law.
“The EU-Turkey deal has been a disaster for the thousands who have been left stranded in a dangerous, desperate and seemingly endless limbo on the Greek islands,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe.
“It is disingenuous in the extreme that European leaders are touting the EU-Turkey deal as a success, while closing their eyes to the unbearably high cost to those suffering the consequences.”
Stockpiled in squalor
When the deal came into force, all refugees and migrants were automatically held in detention centres. While there is no longer a strict detention regime, those in the camps are still unable to leave the islands. As a result they are forced to endure squalid living conditions for months on end in overcrowded camps, with a lack of hot water, poor hygiene, bad nutrition, and inadequate medical care.
Conditions on the islands are not only degrading but also put the physical well-being and lives of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants at risk. In the evening of 24 November 2016, a gas canister used for cooking in Moria camp on the island of Lesvos exploded and led to the death of a 66-year old Iraqi woman and a 5 year-old child living in the adjoining tent.
The hardships imposed by the poor reception conditions on the islands are compounded by residents’ fears for their own security. The poor conditions in the camps, the uncertainty refugees and migrants face about their futures, and the uneasy relations with local populations, all contribute to the significant tensions that have on occasion flared into violence. Refugees were also victims of hate-motivated attacks in the Souda camp on Chios.
BKD, a 17 year-old Syrian refugee from Aleppo described the attack:
“When the attack happened, we were afraid for our lives and we ran out of the camp…..People were screaming, children were crying….we do not need that stuff in our lives again…”
Women are particularly affected by the lack of security on the Greek islands – as they are often forced to live in camps and use the same shower and toilet facilities as men. They have complained, for example, of a lack of female only showers and toilets or, where they exist, of a lack of proper doors and lighting. Several women told Amnesty International that they have either experienced or witnessed verbal or physical sexual harassment or domestic violence.
Move people forwards, not back to Turkey
The central premise of the deal to return every irregular arrival on Greek islands back to Turkey relies on the assumption that Turkey is safe for asylum-seekers.
Although no asylum-seekers have so far been formally returned from Greece to Turkey under the assumption that Turkey is safe, Amnesty International documented that some asylum-seekers were sent back in a rush without being given a chance to seek asylum or appeal against their return, in breach of international law.
“For as long as Turkey is still not a safe country, the EU should work with the Greek authorities to urgently transfer asylum-seekers to mainland Greece and European governments should give them access to relocation to other Acountries, said Gauri van Gulik.
“Nobody should die in the cold on Europe’s doorstep. Leaders who claim the EU-Turkey deal could be a blueprint for new ones with countries like Libya, Sudan, Niger and elsewhere should look at the horrible consequences and be warned: this should never be repeated.”