The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015 - which saw almost one million asylum seekers arriving at European shores, mainly entering through the Greek Aegean Islands, from Turkey – led to the manifestation of the EU-Turkey deal. This agreement, announced in March of 2016, between the European Union and Turkey, aimed to control the flow of asylum seekers arriving to Europe, by implementing mass-returns of all refugees crossing into the Greek Islands from Turkey. In exchange for Turkey’s commitment to accepting the return of all ‘irregular migrants’ who had reached Greece by travelling through Turkey, the EU offered Turkey €3 billion in aid and agreed to resettle one Syrian refugee for every Syrian refugee returned to Turkey.
Image by Megan Trace
The EU-Turkey deal, along with the Greek government’s decision to implement a ‘containment’ policy, means the Greek islands, in particular Lesbos, Chios and Samos, have become the EU’s buffer zones. By confining asylum seekers in indefinite sites of containment on the islands – in order to facilitate swift processing and returns to Turkey – the Greek government has created a situation which sees thousands of people trapped in overcrowded and under-resourced camps, living in conditions that do not meet their basic needs, for months and often years, whilst waiting for an asylum decision. Four years later, over 40,000 people live in the island camps, which were initially built for a maximum capacity of around 6000.
This containment policy has had significant consequences for people trapped in the island camps. Those deemed to be part of vulnerable groups, for example pregnant women, unaccompanied minors and survivors of trafficking, torture and gender-based violence, are meant to be exempt from being returned to Turkey. Yet, those belonging to these vulnerable groups make up a significant proportion of camp populations and often remain unidentified by relevant authorities. In addition, as a result of desperate overcrowding, people in the camps are forced to queue for hours for basic necessities such as food and water and many lack access to appropriate shelter, sanitation, healthcare and education services. This has a distinctly negative impact on camp residents’ mental health and wellbeing.
Image by Fotomovimiento
The EU-Turkey deal has shaped the way Europe has responded to refugees arriving at its borders and its manifestation has highlighted the EU’s evident disregard for refugee and migrant rights. Containing asylum seekers in deplorable conditions that violate their fundamental human rights, with the hope that this will deter others from making the journey to Europe is unacceptable and negates the EU’s responsibility to support and protect those fleeing conflict, persecution and climate disaster. The EU must respect the importance of burden-sharing by assisting Greece and sharing responsibility across member states. They must decongest the Aegean Island hotspot camps by relocating refugees across European cities and they must implement new and humane migration policy, which considers EU standards of reception, protection and security and which places refugee rights at the centre of all decision-making processes.
About the author: Rowan is from Scotland and recently finished her MSc in Transnational Crime, Justice and Security at the University of Glasgow, in which she wrote a dissertation centred on the consequences of securitising migration for migrants in conflict zones and the need for a new and humane migration policy. She currently volunteers for a number of NGOs focused on migrant, refugee and women’s rights. Rowan feels strongly about social justice and universal human rights and wants to see an end to immigration detention and the current hostile environment policy. She is also a focal point for Europe Must Act – Glasgow.