March 19, 2016 — Despite some welcome moves, like emergency humanitarian assistance to Greece and a reinforced commitment to 'hotspots', the International Rescue Committee sees serious problems with the EU-Turkey deal.
First, Greece faces a near-impossible task: Already hosting 45,000 desperate people, and with a weakened economy, Greece will have to construct a functioning asylum system on the Greek Islands over the course of this weekend for the deal to be workable. Sending people back to Turkey without a proper asylum process capable of assessing them on the basis of individual need risks flouting international law.
Second, a rapid acceleration of relocation of refugees to elsewhere in the EU is needed to ease the humanitarian situation in Greece, but how this will happen remains unclear. Conditions continue to deteriorate on Greece’s northern border, where International Rescue Committee staff report over 10,000 people camping in the mud and the dirt, desperate for a solution that allows them to live safely and resume their education and careers. There is a serious risk that makeshift refugee camps will continue to grow and the refugees will seek out even more dangerous smuggler routes onwards into Europe.
Third, while resettlement from Turkey could be a vital part of the solution to the refugee crisis, making this conditional upon people being returned to Turkey is both unethical and illogical. Far from creating safe and legal routes for Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and other refugees to reach Europe, this deal does the opposite. A meaningful and unconditional resettlement scheme, in which Europe takes in 108,000 refugees per year for five years as the International Rescue Committee has proposed, is what is needed. European leaders are missing the opportunity to take resettlement in the right direction.
The fact is that the number of people fleeing their homes due to conflict and crisis continues to rise. As a result, people will continue to risk their lives in pursuit of safety in Europe. Europe’s choice is not whether or not to accept refugees. It is whether they allow inhumane, disorderly and illegal arrivals of refugees to continue, or succeed in agreeing a humane, orderly and legal alternative.
The EU’s deal with Turkey will lead to more indignity, more disorder, more illegal journeys and more lives lost.