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One year on, agencies censure EU’s refugee agreement with Ankara

24 March 2017


Devotion: African migrants pray at a Greek Orthodox church in the village of Moria, Lesbos, last week

Devotion: African migrants pray at a Greek Orthodox church in the village of Moria, Lesbos, last week

ONE year after the EU and Turkey reached an agreement to stop the flow of Syrian and other re­­fugees into Europe, thousands of home­less people stranded in Greece are in a state of despair. Under the deal, European states pledged to provide financial assist­ance to Turkey, allow visa-free travel for its nationals, and speed up EU-membership talks. In return, Ankara agreed to prevent migrants’ reaching Europe, and accommodate others who were turned away by EU states.

When the arrangement was in­­troduced in March last year, Chris­tian Aid called it “morally repre­hensible”. Today, UNICEF says that “refugee and migrant children face greater risks of deportation, deten­tion, exploitation, and deprivation” than before. UNICEF’s regional di­­rector for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, Afshan Khan, said that while there had been a decrease in the numbers of children on the move into Europe since last March, “there has been an increase in the threats and distress refugee and migrant children en­­dure”.

The UN body said that there was suffering and frustra­tion among children and their fam­ilies. Despite recent improve­ments in living con­ditions, some unaccom­panied chil­dren in shelters suffered psycho­social distress, and high levels of anxiety, aggression, and violence.

”It has be­­come a vicious circle,” Ms Khan said. “Children flee suffer­ing, and they end up either fleeing again, or facing de facto detention, or just utter neglect.” Instead of stemming the flow of refugees, border closures and the EU-Turkey agreement have “led to children and families taking matters into their own hands and embarking on even more dangerous and irregular routes with smugglers”.

The Roman Catholic human­it­ar­ian agency Caritas Europa said that it is “shame­ful” that the EU-Turkey accord had “left thousands of people stranded in inhumane and degrad­ing conditions in Greece, inevitably resulting in others’ taking more dan­­gerous routes to seek protection in the EU”.

The secretary-general of Caritas Europa, Jorge Nuño Mayer, said that the EU “cannot continue exter­nalising the management of migra­tion. . . We need a paradigm shift, and must stop criminalising migra­tion. In line with European values, we must protect the right of every person to live in dignity.”

As thousands of people remain in limbo in Greece, Caritas Europa “im­­plores” EU governments to find “durable solutions for these people who are being denied international protection. The EU-Turkey deal is not a solution, since it fails to re­­spect basic human rights.”

The uncertainty facing the stranded migrants in Greece could increase if the row between Turkey and the EU over the Netherlands’ refusal to allow Turkish politicians to address rallies there is not re­­solved. The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Er­­dogan, has threat­ened to scrap the agreement with the EU in retalia­tion; and the European Affairs Minis­ter, Ömer Çelik, said: “I don’t see any reason why Turkey should maintain the migrant deal.”

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