No more refugees, just “irregulars”...

Source: f/b profile of Yannis Androulidakis Source: f/b profile of Yannis Androulidakis
The deal of shame between E.U.-Turkey

 Stratis Bournazos

Below are some comments in immediate reaction to the agreement as announced on the afternoon of 18th March. We at AnalyzeGreece! consider this agreement to be of particular importance and gravity, which is why we sought to formulate an immediate reaction to it.

1. The agreement reiterates and fully confirms the main points from the statement made by EU leaders on 7th March (except for the added extensive references to international treaties and individual asylum claiming processes – obviously to calm the backlash the absence of these created), a statement strongly criticised by all humanitarian organisations, which claimed that it undermines international law. As regards today's agreement, I will refer to the first, immediate response by Amnesty International: “horrendous deal had been sealed shame on EU”, according to Iverna McGowan (head of Amnesty International al’s EU office), “a cyanide pill” to refugee rights”, according to John Dalhuisen (Amnesty’s Director for Europe and Central Asia”, while the press release is entitled “A historic blow to human rights”. Moreover, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), calls it “the deal of shame”: “European leaders have decided to barter migrants’ and asylum seekers’ dignity and rights for selfish short-term political gain. Such cynicism is despicable”.

2. The main aim, axis and core of the agreement is the stopping of flows from Turkey to Greece and Europe, not the tackling of the refugee crisis, much less the provision of international protection to those who have a right to it, and the protection of refugees. As such, the word “refugee” is only very rarely used in the text; instead, reference is made to migrants and “irregular migrants”. If, however, according to UNHCR data (as cited in a comment by Marilena Katsimi of Facebook), of those crossing the Greek border 91% are refugees (45% Syrian, 28% Afghan, 18% Iraqi - of whom 36% are children and 21% are women), this clearly means the stemming of refugee flows. In other words, the de facto abolition of international treaties, above all the Geneva Conventions, which require the provision of international protection to those in need: if all those wishing to come to Europe (the vast majority of which are refugees), are to be stopped, then they have no access to international protection.

3. For the reasons above, the three “filters for the reduction in flows”, to which Alexis Tsipras referred during the press conference, are all too eloquent. First, the war against traffickers, second, the presence of NATO ships, third, those who manage to pass through these two filters and who reach Greece will in essence be excluded from relocation (as they will be placed at the bottom of the list). In the words of the Prime Minister: “The first filter –and this is an obligation taken on by Turkey– is the dismantling of the network of traffickers operating on Turkish shores. The second filter is the operation of NATO.Turkey has now committed to withdraw the objections it has been posing until now, so that NATO operations can be carried out efficiently and effectively. The third filter was decided upon today. When neither the first nor the second filter are effective, we provide refugees and migrants with a strong disincentive to make use of trafficking networks so that they may reach the Greek islands: those who do come will not have priority in the relocation process and, if they are irregular migrants, they will be swiftly returned. If they are migrants in need of international protection, their claim will be examined on an individual basis [...]. We believe that the message of today's decision, the agreement between the EU and Turkey, is the activation of these three filters, so that we may have an immediate result the reduction of flows from Turkish shores to the Greek islands”. I think the filters speak for themselves, but I will make three comments, one for each filter.

Comment #1: when no legal and safe passage is available, no safe route, everyone, including refugees, makes use of trafficking networks. Therefore, if one takes the decision to “end irregular migration”, as stated in the agreement, then, in the absence of a legal route, one also puts an end to the possibility of refugees coming to Europe (or, more correctly, one makes the journey more expensive and dangerous, as new routes and illegal networks will without doubt be created). Comment #2: NATO ships will, in other words, act as a mobile sea fence throughout the Aegean, which will prevent refugees from reaching the coast. Comment #3: “they will not have priority”. That is, they will be punished, thereby having their right to relocation forfeited.

4. “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey”, reads the text of the agreement. A key question here is: Who is considered an “irregular migrant”? What will happen to, for example Afghans and Iraqis? I don't think there is any room for optimism: based on the overall spirit of the agreement - everyone will be considered to be irregular, except, perhaps, Syrians. And I say perhaps because there is no certainty even for Syrians. The agreement states that “for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU” – wording which reveals that Syrians will be returned, too.

5. Yet how will Syrians, who are prima facie considered refugees, be returned to Turkey, especially in light of the fact that the agreement makes explicit reference to respect for international law. The key term here is “safe third country”, which is used in the text. If Turkey is declared a “safe third country”, then Syrians can be returned legally. Of course, declaring Turkey to be a “safe third country” is both arbitrary and provocative, as Turkey has closed its borders with Syria, international organisations condemn it for refugee arrests and abuse, as well as expulsions and push backs to Syria and Iraq, there is no system for claiming asylum in place (except for European citizens, and temporary protection for Syrians), and it is not safe even for its own citizens: at the moment in which the agreement is signed, authoritarianism by the Davutoglu government is in its zenith, with pogroms against Kurds, mass arrests and the persecution of academics and journalists. By the way, the added status granted to Erdogan and Davutoglu through the agreement, precisely at this moment, is scandalous.

6. The resettlement programmes, unfortunately, look like a joke. Out of a total of 2.5 million Syrians in Turkey (a number which goes up to 3 million if we take account of the Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis), only 72,000 will be resettled – an infuriatingly small number, which confirms once more that the agreement bears no relation to any attempt to solve the refugee crisis.

7. Finally, as regards the references being made in the agreement to respect for international law, the processing of individual asylum claims, etc. Very briefly, and running the risk of being un-nuanced, I will say that not all of the eggs can be put in one basket. If the main aim is to curb refugee flows, this cannot take place whilst respecting international law. I will once more cite John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International (by the way, the fact that in the last few days we keep referring to texts by NGOs and humanitarian organisations, not by left wing political parties, is telling – but that is a different story): “Promises to respect international and European law appear suspiciously like sugar-coating the cyanide pill that refugee protection in Europe has just been forced to swallow.”
           ***
We will continue our coverage of this very important issue over the next few weeks. Concluding this commentary, I would like to say that the agreement is not a diplomatic success, as Alexiis Tsipras stated, but a significant defeat and embarrassment. Starting today, we must, both in Greece and in Europe, organise our resistance to the agreement. #StopTheDeal, #Refugees Welcome!

PS. Two pieces of good news, coming from Spain, on a Saturday, no less: at  Madrid city hall, the EU flag is at half mast in protest, while in Barcelona a large rally took place against the agreement (rallies had also taken place in previous days, while the Spanish Parliament had rejected the “preliminary” agreement of 7th March).

Stratis Bournazos is a journalist and historian, member of the editorial board of AnalyzeGreece! and Enthemata Avgis.\

Translated by Despina Biri

First published  in Greek on "Enthemata" of the newspaper "Avgi", 20.3.2016.