Als de EU haar verantwoordelijkheid voor vluchtelingen doorschuift naar Turkije, zet ze fundamentele wettelijke verplichtingen én haar eigen kernwaarden op het spel. Dat zegt hulporganisatie Oxfam, die al meer dan 220.000 vluchtelingen heeft geholpen in Griekenland, Italië en op de Balkan.
A decision to shift the EU’s responsibility for refugees to Turkey would see the bloc bargaining its core values and abandoning fundamental legal obligations, warns Oxfam today. Such a decision, which leaders may make this week, would set a dangerous precedent that human rights don't matter anymore. Already European border closures and restrictions are dramatically worsening the humanitarian crisis for refugees and migrants living in desperate conditions from Greece to Macedonia and from Serbia to Sicily.
In a joint letter Oxfam, the International Rescue Committee and 17 other leading agencies that work directly with refugees and migrants in Europe are asking EU leaders, who meet on Thursday, to respect the fundamental rights of refugees and learn lessons from the last year that a containment approach to migration costs lives. Since 2014, about 7,500 people have died at sea, many of them children.
Oxfam’s migration policy lead, Sara Tesorieri, said:
"The decision to ‘end’ the Balkans route is a piece of political theater in which the European Union has pandered to domestic politics at the expense of its values. It doesn’t solve the real crisis of people arriving in Europe. There is no doubt that the European Union and Turkey should work together, and they need each other. However, the proposed horse-trading between Turkey and the EU uses human beings as bargaining chips. When they meet on Friday, EU and Turkish leaders need to put people’s rights and safety first."
In the Balkans, closed borders have forced tens of thousands of people into makeshift camps without access to essential items for survival such as shelter, food, health care and water. The situation has also made it harder for humanitarian organizations to reach areas quickly. Border guards are reportedly assessing refugee status on the basis of 10 minute interviews and in Sicily, new arrivals are receiving expulsion notices without having access to any information.
Elements of the proposed deal in its current form would potentially violate international law and people’s fundamental rights, including the right to claim asylum. Turkey is already hosting more refugees than any other country, about 3 million people, and is already overwhelmed. Any agreement reached must guarantee basic safeguards and services such as education, healthcare and employment.
EU leaders should agree to new ways to provide safe and legal routes for people in need of protection, including issuing humanitarian visas, large-scale resettlement programs and the application of family reunification policies. Europe has a right to control its borders, but above all has the obligation to manage migration in a humane way.
Signatories to the joint letter
- Association Vasa prava BiH – Legal Aid Network
- Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull'Immigrazione (ASGI).
- Croatian Law Network
- Danish Refugee Council
- Doctors of the World UK.
- Group 484
- International Rescue Committee UK
- Legal-Informational Centre for NGOs in Slovenia
- Local Democracy Foundation
- Macedonian Young Lawyers Association
- Medici per i Diritti Umani Onlus
- Medicines du Monde - Greece
- Norwegian Refugee Council
- Oxfam International
- People in Peril Association
- Save the Children International
- Solidarity Now
- World Vision
The agencies involved all have staff working with refugees in Europe and are reporting a miserable situation on the ground.
With 42,000 people stuck in Greece - thousands scattered in villages between Athens and the Macedonian border - and an additional 3,000 people arriving each day across the sea from Turkey. The transit centers, NGO-rented hotel spaces, safe spaces and day centers in Athens are all full to capacity – including the city's disused former airport - and the Greek government is now looking to use old sports stadiums despite the lack of adequate hygiene and sanitation or segregated spaces for women. There are also plans to use several former military bases.
Thousands of people have scattered throughout central Greece - between Athens and the northern border - as police have banned bus companies from taking Afghan refugees to the frontier.
Some Syrians have been among those turned away at the Macedonian border where about 13,000 people are camped out in the hope that the border will reopen.
At Macedonia's northern border about 1500 refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have been stranded for the last three weeks - with 400 refugees from Syria and Iraq camped in the mud in the no man's land between the two countries.
Border officials are determining refugee status without any formal procedure on the basis of a 10 minute interview and refusing entry to anyone they deem to be an economic migrant.
Hundreds of migrants from Burkina Faso, Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Nigeria, Togo, Ivory Coast and Guinea have been served with expulsion notices and are therefore unable to access any form of support from the state.