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Europe: EU-Turkey deal violates international law
April 01, 2016

Europe: EU-Turkey deal violates international law
Police block the border crossing to Macedonia at Idomeni, Greece, in December 2015. (Kristof Hölvényi — JRS Europe)

(Rome) April 1, 2016 — Jesuit Refugee Service is deeply concerned by the recent deal reached by the EU and Turkey regarding refugee relocation and resettlement. The decision to push refugees and migrants back to Turkey is a violation of the international law to provide protection, and contrary to EU principles of guaranteeing the right to claim asylum and prohibiting collective expulsions.   

The blanket policy of returning "all irregular migrants arriving in Greece" to Turkey goes against the principle of non-refoulement, or not pushing back those in need of protection, and does not guarantee people arriving will be given a fair opportunity to apply for asylum. 

The agreement states for every Syrian who arrives to the Greek islands who is "returned" to Turkey, the EU will admit one Syrian from a Turkish camp to an EU member state. Firstly, the EU only committed to resettling 72,000 people, which would only account for three percent of the Syrians already registered in Turkey. Secondly, the deal only considers Syrian nationals and does not take into account the individual situations of all other asylum seekers fleeing war or persecution in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, etc.  

"The arrangement is dehumanizing to the refugees and migrants involved. Refugees and migrants are not bargaining chips, and their cases should not be considered as interchangeable. The economic resources used for this deal could instead be used to create long-overdue safe humanitarian channels to escape from war and persecution and seek asylum in Europe," said Fr Thomas H. Smolich S.J., JRS International Director. 

Today the most common way for asylum seekers to arrive to Europe is through smugglers, and closed borders and push-backs will only create new and more dangerous smuggling routes.  

Furthermore, Turkey cannot be considered a 'safe third country.’ While it is a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention for refugees, it only recognizes non-European refugees to a limited extent. For example, Syrians may first enter Turkey as 'guests' and receive temporary protection until the conflict is over, but they are denied the durable solution of long-term legal integration.  

Additionally, Turkey has not always respected the principle of non-refoulement and thus cannot be considered safe. For example, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International announced an increase in deportations, push-backs, arbitrary detentions and violence against asylum seekers trying to enter Turkey from Syria or Iraq. There have also been cases of torture and mistreatment in Turkish immigration detention centers.  

JRS asks national and EU institutions to:

• create safe avenues for people to arrive to Europe; 

• to offer humanitarian visas for those fleeing danger; and 

• to consider cases for asylum on an individual basis. 

JRS calls on civil society actors to participate more actively and for a greater civil consciousness surrounding this grave issue.  

"We cannot remain indifferent; millions of men and women are fleeing their homes and it's our duty to not only provide protection, but above all respect their human dignity," Fr Smolich said. 

by Jacquelyn Pavilon 
JRS International Communications Coordinator

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