Europe’s Bad Refugee Deal



On 7 March 2016 the EU-Turkey summit lead to a deal being agreed on the “refugee crisis” now confronting Europe.  The deal is a terrible one, undermines protection, and completely ignores the human reality of those forcibly displaced by conflict and persecution.

Rather than focus on protection and upholding human dignity, the deal centres around number control purely in the interest of fortress Europe.

The deal requires, among other things, that “all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey.”

The phrase “irregular migrants” deliberately misleads and is used in our region by Australia to justify its punitive and inhumane treatment of those arriving by boat.  The reality of fleeing persecution is that such flight will, in all likelihood, be “irregular”.  Indeed, the Refugee Convention (at Article 31) specifically states that no refugee should be penalised for illegal entry recognising that refugees will be faced with desperate choices in seeking protection.

That word – “protection” – is key.

The purpose of the Refugee Convention is to ensure protection from being persecuted.  That is, where you are unable to access protection in your home country, the international community will step in to provide that protection.  International refugee law is premised on this principle of surrogacy of protection.

Importantly, then, the Refugee Convention is a human rights remedy.  It is not an immigration tool.  It is not a mechanism to control migration flows.

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The Refugee Convention is geared towards ensuring access to protection.  The rights contained in that convention for refugees include key socio-economic rights, such as the right to work, to achieve a level of protection where human dignity prevails.

The EU-Turkey deal betrays this guarantee of access to protection and is inconsistent with any concept of dignity.  The deal is premised on Turkey being a “safe third country” under EU law.  This concept requires that refugees be able to access sufficiency of protection in Turkey.

But, the flaw in this is that Turkey provides no protection in law to refugees from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  Turkey does not allow individuals from non-European countries to seek asylum.  Therefore, these “irregular migrants” will be sent to a country where they can have no reasonable chance of accessing any level of rights.  What will they do?  What would you do?

Human Rights Watch recently asked refugees in Greece about their experiences in Turkey, and I quote from Human Rights Watch:

“In Turkey we didn’t feel safe,” said Shabby Hosseini, a 22-year-old woman from Afghanistan, who reached Greece with her husband and three children under age 8. “We were sleeping in forests, places with animals. We spent days without food and water. There was no safety.”

Omar, 35, an Iraqi, told us: “The authorities put us in a military camp where we were not allowed to get out. It was in a dangerous location because bombardments were going on around. We could hear the bombs. We stayed there for seven days. We were 2,000 people and there were only two toilets, one for men and one for women. You had to wait for a full day at the queue in order to go to the toilet. Then we were transferred to the stadium. And there too, we were not allowed to get out. They put us in facilities where even animals can’t live.”

Abdelrahman, 48, who lost his legs in the war in Syria and is in a wheelchair, said: “We starved in Turkey, we didn’t have a job. We had nothing. We went to Turkey to seek help but we didn’t find any help there.”

These are real people with real experiences.  They are more than mere numbers on a spreadsheet.

The truth is that there is no tangible access to protection in Turkey.  European leaders know this, but are happy to outsource their international obligations to Turkey to suit domestic political imperatives.

Consistent with this failure of principled decision-making, the EU-Turkey deal includes a provision for greater access to European visas for Turkish citizens.  The use of refugees as bargaining chips is simply immoral, but reflects the current European approach to protection.

Ultimately, this EU-Turkey deal will not work.  There will be challenges requiring due process and a robust review of claims for asylum.  These challenges will expose the flawed and, ultimately, illegal nature of the deal.  The race to the bottom will end messily, but in the interim thousands will endure intolerable insecurity.





  1. New Zealand should be doing more – MUCH MORE! These are people who’ve escaped war zones created by the US interference in middle east politics, and it’s the responsibility of the West to help the victims.

    Comments by racists who blame refugees for terrorist acts are unfounded and play into the hands of ISIS and Al Queda.

    • Not so unfounded when the terror network that hit Paris AND Brussels hid among complicit Islamic migrant communities.

      • Goodwin “complicit”?

        Do you have evidence for that claim? Or just something you’ve made up.

        Tell us; when the Wellington Trades Hall was bombed in March 1984, did you assume all Wellingtonians were complicit in the crime?

        What about the Rainbow warrior bombing? Were all French nationals living in New Zealand at the time complicit in that act of terrorism?

        Or are you simply being selective, based on non-European ethnicity?

        I look forward to your learned response to my questions.

  2. +100 Great article.

    Personally would like to see those national who bomb countries made to resettle the resulting refugees into their country with full human rights. Might see a reduction in western warfare leading to the crisis if nations were actually held accountable for the amount of refugees they are creating.

    Pretty soon the world would find a more humane solution to fight terrorism than bombing the crap out of civilian populations around the world leading to the refugee crisis.

    Also outrageous that they are calling them ‘migrants’ when they are refugees and sending them to Turkey – out of sight out of mind I guess.

    • Considering Russia is one of the most active players in Syria I would find that suggestion difficult to put in to practice.

      • Russia should have to take them too in proportion to the amount of bombs they are dropping.

        ISIS didn’t even exist before Afghanistan and Iraq invasions/occupations by US et al.

        The nationality of 9/11 terrorists were Saudi Arabians.

        Just like Vietnam, the US made a bad call.

  3. A very thought provoking article, thank you. Question:

    The comments you cite sound rather familiar, as in they sound quite like the conditions in refugee camps in Europe right now, i.e. under-resourced and overcrowded, with no thought to providing long term shelter or stable supplies of food & water. Turkey was as clearly unprepared as Greece or Germany. Do you have anything from HRW or the UN on what Turkey is planning to do in terms of facilities? I note that according to HRW, there are around 2.5 million Syrians in Turkey already, and the Turkish policy has already been articulated (from HRW):

    “Turkey has previously indicated it wants to create a “safe zone” in Syria to which Syrians could flee to and Turkey could return Syrian refugees. In July 2015, President Erdoğan said that “cleansing the region of all threatening elements and establishing a safe zone constitutes the basis of 1.7 million Syrian refugees’ return.” The same month, Çavuşoğlu, the foreign minister, said that, “When areas in northern Syria are cleared of the [ISIS] threat, the safe zones will be filled naturally…. People who have been displaced can be placed in those safe areas.”

    In terms of where I see this going, we know that the strategic turn in Syria has meant that the defeat of ISIS will now come not from a Turkish invasion of Syria, but by the armed forces of the legal government of Syria defeating them with assistance from Kurdish YPG units (Turkey’s real target in their ‘safe zone’), the RUAF, Hezbollah, and Iranian Quds forces. I would suggest however that regardless of how this plays out, Erdogan plans to repatriate these 2.5 million Syrians once Latakia, Idlib, and Aleppo provinces are free of Al-Nusra and ISIS militants. When Erdogan says “cleansing the region of threatening elements”, he’s talking about killing Kurds and resettling Sunni refugees, not defeating ISIS.

    You make the point that “[the] truth is that there is no tangible access to protection in Turkey. European leaders know this, but are happy to outsource their international obligations to Turkey to suit domestic political imperatives.”

    I agree that Turkey does not have the refugees’ best interests in mind, and part of why they let so many cross into Europe in the first place was to use them as a bargaining chip in the hope that NATO would react to public concerns by allowing Erdogan to invade northern Syria – ostensibly to create this ‘safe zone’, but actually just to kill Kurds and resettle their homeland with repatriated Sunni refugees. The EU-rocracy’s fecklessness was something they bargained for from the beginning. I disagree that they aren’t protected from persecution, but I do agree they won’t be well provided for, because Erdogan wants them as settlers along his border once his army has found an excuse to exterminate the Kurds who live there at the moment.

    I do have some sympathies with Europe on this however; Europe is broke. Unemployment in the Mediterranean and former Eastern Bloc members is huge already. The ECB is making it up as it goes along, they have no coherent strategy for recovery. Even the German and Scandinavian economies are faltering. I give Europe a decade tops before theiy are basically in the same economic coma as Japan; zombie banks with a zombie currency, devouring everything but still totally dead. How are they going to provide for these people? How will they employ them or educate their children? A side of me wonders if they won’t be better off returning to Syria once the legal government wins its war against the foreign sponsored militants who have turned the country into a warzone.

    • I see it differently. Europes leaders and there banking cartel are trying to kill there own citizens. Erdogan the Stronk on the other hand is doing his dam’est to kill every one not named Erdogan.

      The European crises is why we in New Zealand have so much instability. It’s a perfect storm of cock ups and protecting ones political ass.

      One important thing a lot of people don’t relies is that woman in turkey are not allowed to work, that is wrong on so many levels, the net result is real people actually die! These guys leading Europe are complete Ametures, the U.K. Had Blair, now it’s got Osborn, even his own party members are calling for his resignation, because his policies are killing people.

      Honestly. If the people decided to march on the European Parliament and hang every one they would be correct.

      • Yeah the EU is a crock, burnt out political retirement home where they can feather their nests a little further before moving to somewhere outside of the continent they destroyed, occasionally dropping by for a visit to the Swiss alps or some Mediterranean yachting. Let the plebeian masses reap the whirlwind of bankster experimentation and overcrowded slums of resentful asylum seekers who arrived to find that the jobs left town two decades back and all that’s left is for them & the local working classes to stare daggers over the crumbs. Ever wonder about that EU strategy? Outsourcing the industrial base and then throwing open the gates? Plan already working. Terrorism and division, soon the Europeans will be scared enough to back fascism – the end game of this whole process.

  4. Yes, it is a flawed and bad deal, and the UN have already announced they will not work with the EU on the new camps that will be created and filled in Greece and Turkey. Also have NGOs pulled out their support. There are anyway 50thousand or more refugees stuck in Greece, who arrived there before the agreement with Turkey.

    More will continue flowing into Greece as they are not aware of what is going on.

    It will turn out to be unmanageable and unworkable, and the crisis will continue.

    The EU is now a morally failed and bankrupt union, as there is total lack of unity and agreement on how to deal with the refugees already there, some members states and their governments are a total disgrace, breaching all human and refugee rights.

    But let us not forget why the refugee crisis exists for a start, it is the conflict in Syria, and that one is largely continued by the Syrian government, by ISIS, who do not surrender, and also to some degree by smaller groups like Al Nusra Front, who are not part of any negotiations.

    While refugees deserve fair treatment, there is NO solution as long as those responsible parties are taken out, and neutralised, that means beaten and barred from any power sharing.

    As Europe will not go into Syria, as the Russians will not allow that anyway, as ISIS wants foreign powers to go in and fight them, there is no solution.

    ISIS fuels the refugee crisis and at the same time the tensions in Europe, by doing what their supporters have done in Paris, Brussels and so forth. So far it is all working according to their agenda, and the refugees are stuck between a rock and a hard place, even worse.

    It will definitely be NO solution to simply let the flood continue, out of Syria, so IS can establish their Caliphate and let their followers fill the land with newly born, many new “citizens” of Islamic State, who will be indoctrinated from a young age, to fight jihad and destroy the west.

    I fear indeed, a major war, also involving Europe, is inevitable, as the UN led negotiations, backed by the US and Russia are also bound to fail.

  5. The more I learn about the way refugees get treated in Turkey, the more I am worried and disappointed about what this “agreement” between the EU and Turkey means. Here are some important information sources:

    But going by what our government does or rather does not do, can we lecture any other government and country, I wonder?

    Even if the refugee quota here may be doubled, New Zealand would be doing much less than many countries in Europe, and less even than Australia.

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