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.”