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April 8, 2016
April 8, 2016

EU’s dirty deal with Turkey

Author: Lucija Mulalić
Category: Borders
This article is also available in: elfrhr
EU’s dirty deal with Turkey

In the days approaching the meeting of the European Council and closing the EU deal with Turkey regarding the biggest humanitarian crisis since WWII, numerous articles analysing and criticising the deal have already filled our media and social networks. When the deal was struck, additional critique followed, but it appears that so far it is falling on deaf ears, as Europe seems determined to stomp on a big part of the postulates it was supposedly built upon: universal protection of human rights and dignities and the protection of those most vulnerable – people escaping violence, oppression and conflict.

If we look at people who are arriving to Europe, statistics [1] show most of them are Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan, people clearly escaping conflict zones and war, and more than half of them are women, children and unaccompanied minors. With the Balkan route being shut off and most European countries abandoning their obligations in receiving refugees, Europe needed a way to handle refugees that continued to arrive to its shores. As most people arriving are clearly in need of refugee protection and it was obvious that returning to Turkey only those who are not eligible for asylum would make up a really small number of people, Europe decided that it will return those who do need protection on the grounds that they already had it in Turkey. In order to do that, Europe decided to label Turkey a safe third country [2], which means that persons seeking asylum in Greece will not have their applications examined on the basis of merits (whether they have a right to get refugee status on the basis of their case), but on admissibility – whether they could have found protection elsewhere, i.e. in Turkey.

But Turkey is anything but a ‘safe third country’. This arbitrary and often critiqued labelling of certain countries as safe, cooperation and readmission agreements is not new, but a dirty ploy European countries have been doing for years now in order to make refugees simply go away under the policy ‘out of sight, out of mind’. We can only remember the deal between Gaddafi and Berlusconi with the Italy-Libya Friendship Treaty or the cooperation between Morocco and Spain in a bilateral readmission agreement, both clear signals that European countries don’t really care about international human rights law nor protection and safety of refugees. Unfortunately, pushing back refugees to countries in which their human rights are in danger does not really solve any problems for refugees, just hypocritical countries that choose to look away from their own obligations when it is convenient.

If we look at the definition of a safe country for asylum seekers provided in EU’s Asylum Procedures Directive, we see it relies on several factors: the lives and liberties of asylum seekers shall not be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; they will face no risk of serious harm, such as the death penalty, but also torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, nor shall there be a serious threat to their lives due to indiscriminate violence in situations of conflict. The proposed safe country must also honour the non-refoulement principle (that forbids return to unsafe countries), and there has to be a possibility for the applicant to claim refugee status and receive protection in accordance with the Geneva Convention. If we look at the situation in Turkey, we might conclude that the country is failing on all accounts to be recognised as a ‘safe country’. Why?

Well, perhaps the biggest and most obvious problem that the European Union is nowadays exceptionally ignorant to recognise is the fact that many Turkish citizens seek and obtain asylum in that same EU, a process that has been happening for decades – and still is. As Statewatch reports [3], Turkey has a five times higher rate of recognised asylum claims from its nationals in Europe than, for example, the Balkan states which have previously been designated as safe countries of origin. Oppressed minorities, such as Kurds, political dissidents, journalists have for a long time been a steady presence in European countries – seeking asylum to escape the same Turkey that the Union through Greece now calls safe. It was precisely my country, Croatia, that granted asylum to one of Turkey’s escaped activists, Başak Şahin Duman, only a few years back, but Croatia seems to have forgotten this fact as it has joined in to the calls to ‘outsource’ refugees to countries where their rights are not protected, alongside with rights of their own citizens.

With the growing violence of the Turkish state in the Kurdistan region and consistent evidence of civilian deaths and population displacement [4] and the government’s continuation of its oppressive minority policies, followed by a new found energy in suppressing any opposing voice to the state – be it feminist activists, journalists, academics, opposition parties, Turkey has clearly shown that it has no regard in honouring human rights of its citizens. It has no problems in oppressing them on the base of their ethnicity or nationality, religion, political opinion and it continues with indiscriminate violence targeting civilians, so we can only imagine what it can have in store for those under its jurisdiction that don’t even have any citizen rights. The problematic of this is only more evident when we remember that many refugees escaping Syria and Iraq are ethnic Kurds, so their safety in the hands of the Turkish state sounds like a dangerous game, although EU officials claim Kurds won’t be sent back [5], which in an ironic way only highlights that the EU is very much aware that Turkey is not safe, but it consciously chooses to look away. The problem gets additionally layered if we know that there might be further plans in deeming Turkey not only a safe third country, but a safe country of origin, which would make it harder for Turkish citizens to get asylum in the EU.

To stay in strict legal terms, the ‘safe’ third country must only prove it is not dangerous in above noted ways for its asylum seekers, but we don’t have to look hard to find evidence of that as well. Turkey has a long history of unlawful push-backs that have also been documented at least two times in recent months, first when evidence emerged that the state has collectively pushed-back Syrian refugees [6] and another happening only a few days ago – with the Turkish state forcibly deporting Afghans [7] to Kabul, completely disregarding the non-refoulement principle. In addition, reports note [8]  there is an increase of deportations, arbitrary detentions and physical violence against refugees trying to cross the southern border or trying to enter Greece (a recent video [9] emerged showing Turkish Coast Guard attacking a refugee boat on their way to Greece), as well as the fact that Turkey has on occasions kept its borders shut to fleeing refugees, thus effectively denying them access to safety. Finally, there have been reports [10] documenting Turkey’s degrading and inhumane conditions and even torture of asylum seekers in detention, amounting to a clear breach of international law as well as the obligations the country has to fulfil to be labelled as a safe third country. Inhumane treatment has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights in a series of judgements [11], and Turkey is a country that has received the highest number of judgements from the Court between 1959 to present – over 3,000, or 18% of the total, surpassing all other state parties to the ECHR [12].

If we continue with the legal framework, another crucial thing to note is that Turkey is still not fully implementing the 1951 Geneva Convention – it ratified it together with its 1967 Protocol, but still it maintains a geographical limitation for non-European asylum-seekers, which means Turkey has asylum procedures and grants refugee statuses only to people originating from Europe (that is, countries members of the Council of Europe). Roman and Peers note [13] that Syrians represent a particular case, as they were first were at first received as ‘guests’ and then subject to a temporary protection regime with the basic idea to host Syrians until the conflict is over and then possibly let them return to their country of origin. As such, Syrians have a right to reside in the country but are denied the prospect of a long-term legal integration, and the situation is even worse for non-Europeans that are not arriving from Syria as they don’t even have temporary status, but who are also in dire need of both full refugee protection status and all the rights that stem from it, which they simply cannot get in Turkey.

That brings us to the appalling conditions of refugees stuck in Turkey, that  are problematic to say the least. One thing that can’t be denied is that Turkey is currently hosting the largest number of refugees in the world, by some estimates around 3 million. But those located in refugee camps (often close to the borders thus directly bordering a war-zone and with greater danger of a spill-over conflict) contrary to popular belief of a humane camp life, wither away in prison-like conditions, under constant control, segregation and subjugation, with their lives frozen in time while faced with the lack of security and access to basic human rights and uncertainty in their future. HRW notes [14] that the UN food agency announced earlier this year that it had to withdraw from nine refugee camps because of financial shortfalls. But most refugees in Turkey are not even located in refugee camps, but in Turkish cities, where they lack systematic support and access to health facilities, education and work. According to HRW [15], only about 20 percent of the refugee children living outside of camps in Turkey went to school last year. Similar to those in the camps, they share the uncertainty of their future, as with years it has became more and more obvious that the war in Syria will not be a short one, but a prolonged battle that will affect not only this generation of people fleeing, but those who are yet to be born or are born in muddy camps on the outskirts of Europe as we speak.

Besides the major problem of deeming Turkey a safe third country, the EU-Turkey deal carries with it another big problem for anyone even mildly concerned about human rights – the one in, one out arrangement that notes that as an exchange for every Syrian irregular migrant being returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey. Not only is this creating the practical possibility of fast-track large-scale returns – which amount to collective expulsions prohibited by European law, even more difficult access to individual processing of asylum claims, and the favouring of only Syrians for resettlement, but this kind of trading with human lives is deeply dehumanising. Amnesty pointed out [16] that the deal not only lacks any concern for the human beings at the centre of this crisis, but also that this plan would make every resettlement place in Turkey dependent upon another Syrian risking their life by embarking on the deadly sea route to Greece, which would be a “serious erosion of refugee rights and have international legal ramifications far beyond Europe“. Resettlement policies should be welcomed as a possibility to show solidarity in relieving first receiving countries and also in removing the need of refugees to embark on dangerous journeys, but they must not depend on any kind of quid pro quo trading in human lives and blocking access to asylum.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that the money, now going to Turkey’s efforts in stopping people from migrating with the possible danger of it being spent on deporting people and not helping them, could have been directly spent in the EU, alleviating the suffering of people stuck in camps in Greece, and for integration programmes. The biggest disappointment in this hypocrisy is UNHCR, supposedly a  representative of refugees in times of crisis, that has meekly expressed concern with the deal – mostly because of its problematic procedural issues, and not the illegal, immoral, dehumanising and dangerous politics behind it; dangerous for the people UNHCR is theoretically here to protect.

Although the proposed deal hypocritically notes that its foundation is actually safety of refugees – as it is aimed in preventing irregular migration, in reality Europe couldn’t care less about safety of refugees – as this deal will only make refugees take up different, even more dangerous routes to arrive to Europe, which will ultimately be payed in human lives. So far it is evident that restrictions to legal migrations lead to proportional growth of irregular ones mostly facilitated by traffickers; and the closure of the Balkan route and the deal with Turkey will ultimately amount precisely to that, as refugees have already shown they are more than willing to risk their lives in order to escape conflict and oppression.

The easiest way of battling traffickers and helping refugees is very clear – opening safe and legal routes and creating and implementing better resettlement policies, but it is more than evident Europe has no desire to pursue such ideas, at they don’t fit their hypocritical agendas. At least now we see more clearly than ever that policies of protecting human rights come really low at the European scheme of things and nowhere in sight can we see the so-called European values we are so proud of, as was even openly admitted by European Commission Chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas when replying to a question on how does the Commission plan to repair its international reputation and regain its lost moral authority. “The Commission is not to be a commentator of reality, and it has no time for questions of morality” [17] was a clear sign that echos very much words of John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s director for Europe and Central Asia, that stated the deal is a moral abyss, and we can clearly see that the European abyss is nowadays most definitely gazing back at us.


[2]Hot spot work intensifies as Greece agrees to recognize Turkey as ‘safe’ country,


[4]Human Rights Watch,


[6] Human Rights Watch,

[7]Amnesty International,

[8]Human Rights Watch,, Amnesty International,

[9]Migrant Report,

[10]Amnesty International,, Global Detention Project,

[11]In cases such as Abdolkhani and Karimnia v Turkey and the recent SA v Turkey.

[12] Reppell, 2015, in Statewatch,

[13]EU Law Analysis,

[14]Human Rights Watch,

[15]Human Righs Watch,

[16]Amnesty International,


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EU’s dirty deal with Turkey by Lucija Mulalić is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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