Sunday 30th April 2017
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April 9, 2016
April 9, 2016

No more refugees, just “irregular migrants”

Author: Stratis Bournazos Translator: Stella Massia
Source: Enthemata  Category: Borders
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No more refugees, just “irregular migrants”

"Farewell" by Yorgos Konstantinou

  1. The deal reiterates and utterly confirms the guidelines of the March 7 EU leaders statement of (if we leave aside an extensive reference in the international treaties and individual asylum process – apparently appended due to reactions), a statement that was heavily condemned by humanitarian organisations for challenging international law. For the current deal, I will turn to the first, immediate reactions by Amnesty International. Iverna McGowan (head of the European affair office of the organisation) describes it as “a horrendous deal” that shames Europe, John Dalhuisen (Director for Europe and Central Asia) characterises it as lethal as cyanide pill for refugee rights, while the organisation titles relevant article: “EU-Turkey refugee deal a historic blow to rights”. Moreover, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) states for “the deal of shame”, that European leaders decided “to swap migrants’ rights for short-term political gain. A cynical swap.”

  2. The main aim of the deal is the stemming of the refugee flows from Turkey to Greece and Europe, and not solving the refugee crisis, let alone the provision of international protection to those entitled and the protection of refugees. Therefore, the term “refugees” is as scarce as hen’s teeth; public discourse now refers to immigrants and “irregular migrants”. However, if according to UNHCR statistics, 91% of those crossing the Greek borders are refugees (45% Syrians, 28% Afghans, 18% Iraqis – 36% of them children and 21% women), this clearly signifies the halt of refugee influx. In other words, it means abolition of international agreements, in the first place of the Geneva Convention, which prescribes international protection to those in need. Since those who want to arrive to Europe will be stopped (and as we have seen the vast majority are refugees), they will have no access to international protection.

  3. In relation to the above, Alexis Tsipras has well articulated the three “filters for the reduction of the influx”, in the press conference that followed the conclusion of the
    agreement:
    firstly, the war against people smugglers, secondly, the presence of the NATO naval patrol. Thirdly, those who manage to overcome these “filters” and arrive to Greece will be substantially excluded from the chance of relocation (since they will be at the “bottom” of the list). I precisely quote the PM’s words: “The first filter -a responsibility taken on by Turkey- is the blow to the people smugglers business model in the Turkish coast. The second filter are the NATO operations. For this, Turkey has committed to raising the obstacles that has placed so far, in order for NATO operations to be substantial and effective. The third filter is the one decided today.  When neither the first nor the second filter has an effect, we give a strong counter-motive to refugees and migrants to use the people smugglers business model to arrive in the Greek islands: those who arrive will not be given priority for relocation and, if they are irregular migrants, they will be returned directly. If they are migrants in need of international protection, their claim will be judged individually […]. We believe that the message conveyed today with this decision, the EU-Turkey mutual agreement, is the activation of these three filters, in order to have a direct effect in the reduction of the influx from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands”. I think that the filters are clear; I would like though to make three remarks, one for each filter. First remark: when there is no legal and safe passage, no legal route, everyone, refugees or not, inevitably use people smugglers. Therefore, if you decide to “end irregular migration”, as the deal indicates, then -because of the absence of a legal route- you also negate the refugees’ potential to arrive to Europe (or to put it better, you make the trip more expensive and dangerous, since new passages and illegal networks will be sought after). Second remark: NATO ships will be an extra border fence, a maritime and moving one, in the Aegean, to prevent refugees. Third remark: “they will not be given priority”. That is, they will be punished, deprived of the right to relocate.

  4. “All new irregular migrants that will arrive to the Greek islands through Turkey from March 20, 2016 onwards will be returned there”, we read in the agreement. The crucial question here is: who is considered an “irregular migrant”? What is going to happen, for example, with the Afghans or Iraqis? I believe there is no room for optimism. According to the overall spirit, everyone will be considered irregular except for, maybe, Syrians. And I say maybe, because even for Syrians, things are not certain. The deal suggests that “for every Syrian who is returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled to the EU”- a phrasing that clearly shows that Syrians will be returned, too.

  5. However, how will Syrians, who are considered prima facie refugees, be returned to Turkey, particularly since the agreement makes reference to the respect of international law? The key term mentioned here is “safe third country”. If Turkey is proclaimed “safe third country”, then Syrians will be returned lawfully. Certainly, the declaration of Turkey as a “safe third country” is provocative and arbitrary, since it has closed its borders with Syria, international organisations accuse it for refugees’ arrests and mistreatment, deportations and refoulement to Syria and Iraq, it has no asylum system (except for European citizens and temporary protection for Syrians), and it is not a safe country for its own citizens. The time when the agreement is signed the authoritarianism of Davutoglu’s government has reached its apogee, with the pogrom against the Kurds, and the extensive arrests and prosecutions of academics and journalists.

  6. Sadly, the resettlement scheme seems more like a joke. Of the total 2.5 million Syrians in Turkey (a number that reaches up to 3 million if Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis are added) only 72,000 are expected to resettle, an outrageous number that proves that the deal has nothing to do with solving the refugee crisis.

  7. Lastly, a few words about the respect of international law, the individual asylum process etc., that are mentioned in the agreement. To make a long story short, running the risk to become aphoristic, I say that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If your main aim is to stem the influx of refugees, this cannot be achieved with respect to international refugee law. I will quote John Dalhuisen from Amnesty International again (by the way, it is indicative that these days we point to articles of NGOs and humanitarian organisations and not of left-wing parties- but that’s another story): “promises to respect international and European law appear suspiciously like sugar-coating the cyanide pill that refugee protection in Europe has just been forced to swallow.”

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