In advance of Angela Merkel’s visit to Istanbul, Amnesty International issued a press release voicing concern over a potential deal:
European leaders’ desperate attempts to enlist Turkey as Europe’s gatekeeper are ignoring the manifest failures of the Turkish authorities to respect the rights of refugees and migrants, said Amnesty International today ahead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Istanbul tomorrow.
Talks between Angela Merkel and her Turkish counterparts – Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – on Sunday are set to cover the refugee crisis among other issues.
“Talks between the EU and Turkey on ‘migration management’ risk putting the rights of refugees a distant second behind border control measures designed to prevent refugees from reaching the EU,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher.
“The EU should indeed be doing more to help Turkey meet the challenges of hosting more than two million refugees and recent talk of a three billion euro offer is a step in the right direction. However, a deal premised on keeping refugees in Turkey fundamentally ignores both the challenges they face there and the obvious need for the EU to offer protection to a greater share of the world’s burgeoning refugee population.”
The meeting follows the publication on 6 October of a draft EU-Turkey Action Plan intended to boost EU support for refugees living in Turkey and secure Turkey’s assistance in combatting irregular migration from Turkey to the EU.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers, not just Syrians, are struggling to make ends meet. Non-Syrian refugees in particular face severe obstacles in accessing asylum and securing livelihoods. Yezidi refugees fleeing the armed group that calls itself the Islamic State in Iraq have been asked to wait for more than five years just to register as asylum-seekers.
The EU should be looking at ways in which it can offer safe and legal routes to refugees to reach Europe, but the current plan fails to offer any concreate assurances on boosting resettlement places for the neediest refugees in Turkey.
The EU’s plans push Turkey to strengthen its border controls are also fraught with risks. Amnesty International has documented a number of recent cases of refugees being forcibly returned to Syria and Iraq after being intercepted by Turkish border guards while trying to reach the EU. Others have been arbitrarily detained without access to lawyers.
As the EU discusses terms with Turkey more than 100 Syrian refugees in one returns centre alone in the eastern city of Erzurum remain in detention living in fear of being forced back across the border.
“In the weeks leading up to the EU negotiations, we have seen refugees being arbitrarily detained and even forcibly returned to the countries from which they have fled for attempting to cross to the EU. This is a flagrant breach of international law. Angela Merkel must insist that Turkey cleans up its act, before treating it as a reliable partner in the EU’s border management,” said Andrew Gardner
Amnesty International also warns that any suggestion of designating Turkey as a “safe country of origin” would be wrong in principle and set a dangerous precedent. European Commission figures show that one in four asylum seekers from Turkey have been granted refugee status in the EU – clear evidence that that country is not safe.
“It would be callous and utterly disingenuous to describe Turkey as a place of safety. There has been an escalation of violence between the PKK and the army and the police, along with a general deterioration of the human rights situation across the board. We have seen waves of arrests of political activists under vague anti-terror laws and further attacks on freedom of expression, with a spike in the number of cases of ill-treatment of detainees,” said Andrew Gardner.
“Turkey clearly wants its recognition as a safe country as a condition for its cooperation in border management, but it would be craven of the EU to give in to this. Angela Merkel must put principles before politics in her talks with the Turkish government.”