Rights group: Refugees to pay ‘high price’ for EU-Turkey deal

Migrants may face abuse or be forced to rely on ‘unscrupulous smugglers’, says Human Rights Watch

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A landmark deal struck on Sunday between Turkey and the European Union (EU) includes €3.2 billion ($3.4 billion) for Ankara to stem the flow of Syrian refugees to Europe, and the lifting of visa requirements for Turkish citizens in the Schengen zone by Oct. 2016 if EU requirements are met.

“Our ultimate target is to stop human smugglers, avoid all types of criminal activities against refugees, and regularize this flow as much as possible,” said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The EU aid is aimed at improving the living conditions of some 2.2 million refugees currently living and benefiting from temporary protection status in Turkey, and to reinforce the country’s borders, which have become the main transit route for the refugees to Europe.

Less than 24 hours after the summit in Brussels ended, Turkish coast guards arrested around 1,300 refugees and three suspected smugglers on the Aegean cost across the Greek island of Lesbos – the most popular entry point for refugees.

But Benjamin Ward, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, is skeptical that the deal will solve Europe’s refugee crisis.

High price

“Even if it does reduce flows to Europe, that will come at a high price for refugees and asylum-seekers,” Ward told Al Arabiya News.

“They may face abuse as a result of Turkey’s efforts to prevent them leaving, and will be forced to rely on unscrupulous smugglers if they want to reach Europe.”

Turkey “may also further restrict access to its territory for Syrians and others seeking protection.” he added.

“Training for police and other security forces, as well as greater accountability in cases of alleged abuse, are worth pursuing for their own sake, but that’s a long-term effort that’s unlikely to make much difference in the short term on the conduct of security officials in the context of the current crisis.”

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) recently said more than 900,000 refugees and migrants had reached Europe since January, 870,000 of whom arrived by sea. More than 3,000 had drowned or gone missing.

In October alone, more than 90 children died trying to reach Greece due to insecure boats.

Basak Kale, an expert on immigration policies from the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, said the EU-Turkey deal includes returning those whose applications for asylum in EU member states have been rejected.

“It also includes irregular migrants who don’t seek protection. This means refugees who are willing to risk their lives to reach Europe will continue to do so,” Kale told Al Arabiya News.

Root causes

She said the deal did not address the root causes of why people are fleeing their home countries.

“If the root causes aren’t addressed properly, palliative arrangements can only provide shortsighted, temporary and responsive solutions.”

Kale said the deal is mostly a burden-shifting rather than burden-sharing approach, to ease public pressure on EU member states.

Experts who call on EU governments, especially Germany, to take in more refugees from Turkey say the country could turn into a dumping ground for failed asylum-seekers and irregular migrants.

“The agreement allows Turkey to send those who don’t qualify for international protection back to their home or transit countries if Turkey has a readmission deal with them,” Kale said, adding that it only has 13 such agreements, eight of which are being applied, but none of them smoothly.

Inadequate aid

Some €2 billion of the financial aid will be allocated to the protection of about 2.2 million refugees, while the remaining €1 billion is for infrastructure support.

“This means there’s less than €900 available for Turkey to provide services for a single refugee. This doesn’t include future returnee immigrants,” Kale said.

“So it will be very difficult for any country to handle such a demand while providing services to irregular migrants with dignity and high-level human rights protection.”

Only 250,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey live in camps that the EU funding is expected to support.

Others are dispersed in cities, living mostly in very poor conditions with limited access to health, education and job opportunities.

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