Today the Refugee Council is calling on David Cameron to reject the EU’s dirty deal with Turkey and to instead offer more refugees safe passage to Britain.
Ahead of the EU leaders’ meeting on Thursday, we have written to the Prime Minister asking him to place protecting refugees at the top of his agenda.
Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “The EU’s plan to outsource its responsibility for protecting refugees to Turkey is immoral, unworkable and probably illegal.
“The fact that the Government is boasting of its intention not to lift a finger to help more refugees find safety in the UK is emblematic of its lack of moral leadership and political courage to do the right thing and offer more refugees safe passage.”
What’s happening at the moment?
As European leaders utterly fail to address the crisis unfolding on their doorstep humanely, thousands of people are continuing to arrive on Europe’s shores every day; effectively penned in in Greece as countries close their borders to refugees. Over half of them are women and children, desperately seeking safety.
Europe-wide efforts to relocate refugees away from countries on the borders of Europe have stalled, with some countries including Britain so far refusing to help. Instead, our Government is actively returning people to countries on the edge of the continent; making the problem even worse.
European governments are now so keen to shirk their responsibility for protecting refugees that NATO gunships are now patrolling Europe’s borders. Clearly, saving lives at sea and ensuring that refugees aren’t illegally returned to Turkey should be the top priority.
What’s the deal with Turkey all about then?
Essentially, the EU intends to bribe Turkey with billions of euros and all sorts of other incentives to corral refugees and stop them seeking safety in Europe.
Under the plan, the EU would admit one refugee directly from Turkey for each Syrian it took back from the Greek Aegean islands, and those who attempted the sea route would be returned.
Why is it a bad idea?
This is a dirty deal that sees the EU and Turkey trading in refugees’ lives. This isn’t about protecting refugees from harm; it’s about a buck passing exercise which sees the EU trying to outsource its border control to Turkey.
A policy of blanket returns of all ‘irregular migrants arriving in Greece’ is incompatible with EU and international law and would be in complete dereliction of the principle of non-refoulement: the fundamental tenet of refugee and human rights law that prohibits the return of people to countries where they would be unsafe.
EU and international refugee law requires that a claim for refugee status or subsidiary protection be given careful consideration, and that no one found to require such protection be forcibly returned.
The idea that Turkey is a ‘safe country’ for refugees to be returned to is ludicrous. Turkey solely recognises refugees from Europe. That means that the millions of Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and other refugees living in Turkey can’t fully access the international protection they’re entitled to.
According to human rights groups, Turkey has been forcibly returning Syrian refugees to Syria, in direct violation of international law. There are also widespread concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in Turkey.
Resettling one Syrian to the EU for every Syrian readmitted from the Greek islands to Turkey is as Kafkaesque as it is legally and morally wrong. As there wouldn’t be mandatory quotas for resettlement to the EU – countries would be asked to volunteer to accept resettled refugees – the chances are this could turn into a mechanism purely focused on containing refugees in Turkey.
Even if some EU countries did agree to resettle refugees directly from Turkey, this agreement would perversely make it in Turkey’s interests for high numbers of refugees to continue attempting to cross the Aegean. Only if readmission numbers were high would resettlement numbers be high.
It’s absolutely right that European countries resettle more refugees from Turkey and Syria’s other neighbouring countries who are hosting millions of refugees between them. But resettlement should always be a supplement to asylum, never a substitute for the right to seek asylum.
What should happen instead?
As a member of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, we fully endorse their call for the European Council to show political and moral leadership and agree on a collective, ethical response to the refugee issues facing Europe. It’s vital that we all work together to help share responsibility for protecting the refugees arriving on Europe’s shores.
We’d also like to see David Cameron place protecting refugees at the top of his agenda.
That means offering safe haven to a greater number of the world’s refugees; both those who have already arrived in Europe and also those who are trapped in poorer countries.
Protecting refugees isn’t just a job for other countries in far away places. This is a job Britain can and should help with.
That means Britain should offer refugees safe passage – so they can travel here legally and safely without having to place their lives in smugglers hands. Quite simply, David Cameron should Let Them Fly.
The Refugee Council is calling for Britain to answer the UN’s plea and to allow more refugees to travel here safely and legally by issuing humanitarian visas, by allowing more refugees to reunite with their loved ones already in Britain and by resettling more people.