Refugees, the European Union and Human Rights

As the issue of migration and the refugee crisis is one of the major hot topics nowadays, on September 28th WYA was present at the report of the EU commission to the European Parliament on the progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, one of the main deal to tackle the problem. The report, though, was not immune from criticism on the part of MEP’s and organisation representatives. In fact, notwithstanding its achievements, it is still questionable whether this deal ensures the protection of human rights in the long run.

The EU-Turkey statement was agreed on in March 2016 and aimed at stopping the flow of irregular migrants from Turkey and at sending them back there, because it is “safer”. Since its implementation arrivals to the said countries have decreased by 97% but still 50 people a day cross the Aegean to get to Greece and many of them lose their lives. Moreover, the issue of lost children during the crossing and of working children in Turkey has been raised. The Commission answered that they cannot guarantee that every child goes to school but that with the Commission’s support many more children have the chance to get a better education as well as a better health. Nevertheless, an Amnesty International briefing shows child labour is common among refugees in Turkey, as families need to hold up in some way. The same report claims that the EU-Turkey deal is illegal and represents a breach of human rights, as Turkey’s asylum system is not as safe as the EU claims it is because it fails to meet three main international law requirements: status (capacity of processing application), durable solutions (Turkey denies full refugee status) and subsistence (Turkey cannot realistically provide shelter for all the asylum seekers, more 3 million). The latter was noted by an MEP, who stated that we have to legally recognise these people in order to live up to our commitment, even when it comes to dealing with migration to Greece and Italy.

In fact, when talking about international cooperation to improve the situation in the two above mentioned countries, even the Commission admits that there is still reluctance on the part of some member states to cooperate, like for example Hungary and Slovakia. Marten Verwey, the EU coordinator for the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, addressed many issues in this regard. He reported that as of now, 30,000 people have been relocated from Italy and Greece and the Commission, calling for solidarity among member states, expects to relocate 6,000-7000 more in the coming months. Notwithstanding these achievements and those to come, has relocation really improved? What about all the minors that disappeared in the process? Were they protected from organised crime networks? Will they be in the future? Mr. Vewery addressed the issue only by saying that the loss of those children will always be a shame for the EU. Anyway, he also wanted to clarify that the hard condition that Italy and Greece are facing has nothing to do with funding, but rather with space capacity and overcrowding. Although after the EU-Turkey deal the situation has improved, it is still hard to agree with local communities to get more space for asylum seekers, Mr. Verwey said.

While leaving the conference room, I couldn’t help but think about the difficulty in addressing the migration issue and at the same time about the contradictions hidden in the statements made during the meeting. The situation in Greece and Italy has improved thanks to the EU-Turkey deal, which in turn has worsened Turkey’s condition due to overcrowding (and not only that). Overcrowding in Italy and Greece, though, is the same problem that is worrying the Commission and the EU, a fear that apparently wasn’t present when drafting the EU-Turkey deal. It is true that sending asylum seekers to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria was a risk of serious human rights violations, but is the EU-Turkey statement really ensuring the effective protection of those human rights?

Written by Barbara Pernice, an intern in the WYA Europe office.