Refugees trapped in Greece need a plan that works

As the European Council prepares to meet this week, we need a plan that works for Europe’s role in dealing with the global refugee crisis. We need a real deal.

Europe’s abysmal handling of the global refugee crisis and the manageable number of people arriving at its borders looking for protection are about to go down in history as a stain on our collective conscience. European governments are failing refugees and the European Union is betraying the very principles upon which it was founded: freedom, equality, human rights and the rule of law. Instead of using the tools at its disposal to welcome its fair share of the global refugee population, Europe is increasingly looking to make deals that trap refugees in other countries. One such deal, the EU-Turkey Agreement, is flawed and it is painfully evident that stockpiling refugees on Greek islands does not work. As the European Council prepares to meet this week, we need a plan that works for refugees and for Europe. We need a real deal.

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The EU Turkey Deal

Among Europe’s failed migration policies, the EU-Turkey deal stands out as a knife in the heart of the international refugee protection system.

Under the deal, all asylum-seekers arriving in the Greek islands via Turkey are to be returned to Turkey on the flawed assumption that their rights as refugees will be respected there. In return, in theory at least, Europe agreed to accept one Syrian asylum-seeker from Turkey for every Syrian sent back to Turkey.

Legal challenges have blocked the return of asylum-seekers to Turkey for now. But nobody knows how long this will last. In the meantime hundreds of refugees and migrants are arriving each week, even if their number has decreased significantly since the deal came into force.

Since then, all new arrivals are being kept on the Greek islands, resulting severe overcrowding, appalling conditions and the crushing of hope.

Stockpiling refugees

Just nine months after it came into effect, the human cost of this deal has become abundantly clear on the Greek islands, where tens of thousands of refugees remain trapped.

Reception efforts and resources to welcome refugees have been diverted to detention, deterrence and the fast-tracking of negative asylum decisions.

These islands where volunteers across Europe used to provide a warm welcome have been transformed into islands of despair, and the home for those who must suffer so that others are discouraged from joining them.

A worrying trend

The failure and the human cost of the EU-Turkey Deal should serve as a warning against future deals with other countries, which leaders stand poised to sign up to.

The EU Turkey deal cannot be used as a blueprint for dealing with the global refugee crisis. Europe has a duty, both moral and legal, to welcome those fleeing conflict and persecution.  This is not a responsibility to be outsourced or pushed back on other countries. The cost to Europe – and the cost to refugees – is too high.

But it does not have to be this way. We can do better.

Time for a real deal

It’s time for European leaders to do the right thing. They must urgently put in place an effective plan to help refugees; a real deal based on protection, shared responsibility and international law.

This will be the difference between disorganized arrivals which benefit criminal smugglers and orderly, manageable arrivals.

It will be the difference between human rights and human suffering.

At the forthcoming European Council meeting this week leaders must agree a plan which:

  • Fixes the disaster on the Greek islands and urgently gets people out of Greece
  • Shares the responsibility to accept refugees across Europe
  • Swiftly reunites refugees with their families already in Europe

Fortress Europe is not a solution. We can do better than this and we must, because if we want to be a society which prides itself on being free, fair and just, there is no work-around for protecting refugees.

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