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The EU-Turkey migration deal: a lack of empathy and humanity


We, Red Cross National Societies, are gravely concerned as we start to see the humanitarian implications of the agreement recently reached by the EU and Turkey on stemming migration into Europe. We fear that its implementation risks undermining international and European refugee and human rights law, and want to stress that any efforts made by the EU and its Member States to address this humanitarian crisis must comply fully with international obligations.

Idomeni, Greece, March 2016. © Caroline Haga / IFRC

Crucially, this includes the obligation to respect the right of all asylum-seekers to seek asylum and access fair and efficient procedures for the determination of refugee status, as well as the duty to ensure protection against refoulement, including chain-refoulement, under all circumstances. 

Behind the political bargaining on numbers, financial arrangements and attempts to seal borders, is the desperate plight of tens of thousands of vulnerable people – men, women, fathers, mothers, and children – who are risking their lives on a daily basis in order to seek safety in Europe. We feel that the EU-Turkey deal reflects a lack of empathy and humanity, overlooking the true nature of desperation which has pushed so many people to embark on these dangerous journeys. In our experience, deterrence policies and border closures have had a limited effect in reducing the vulnerabilities of people facing despair. Instead, indiscriminate border controls and the criminalisation of irregular movement tend to expose the most vulnerable, in particular women and children, to ever greater risks, including family separation, sexual abuse, trafficking, violence, and death. As we have repeatedly seen, when a border closes, new routes quickly emerge.

A dire humanitarian emergency has been created in Greece. This is a European crisis, which requires concrete and authentic acts of solidarity amongst states. Neither Greece nor Turkey can be expected to solely care for all the migrants arriving on their territories. Despite EU efforts to stop migration flows into Greece, around 1,000 vulnerable migrants continue to arrive on the Greek islands every day. According to UNHCR, 164,338 arrivals by sea had been registered for 2016 alone on 28 March. Around 45,000 people are now estimated to be trapped in Greece in appalling conditions. As witnessed daily by the Hellenic Red Cross and staff deployed by Red Cross National Societies to address the humanitarian situation in the country, people have been sleeping in tents, experiencing freezing temperatures and precarious access to sanitation, food, basic supplies, health care and education. Following the EU-Turkey agreement, thousands of people have been transported from the Greek islands to the mainland, creating great confusion and panic. This move is likely to further aggravate the already precarious humanitarian conditions faced by migrants on the mainland.

Upholding safety and dignified standards of living for migrants in Greece and Turkey requires massive and concerted efforts by all EU Member States. Simply containing people does not solve this humanitarian crisis – it creates another. We must remember that we are dealing with the larger repercussions of unsolved conflicts and extreme poverty which require political solutions.

Whilst Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will provide assistance and protection to vulnerable migrants along migratory trails, EU Member States have to jointly take up their responsibilities and find durable and more humane solutions. 

We welcome EU Member States’ commitment to enhance resettlement and relocation efforts. In view of the scale of the current situation, commitments must become more substantial and be urgently implemented in conjunction with other schemes that offer migrants access to protection, including humanitarian visas and family reunification. In our experience, over 40% of Syrians arriving on the Greek Islands intend to join family members already present in other EU Member States. Importantly, any measures implemented must not be to the detriment of refugees from other countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea, who are also making the treacherous sea-crossings to Europe in order to seek international protection.

We, Red Cross National Societies, are aware of the challenges that the current migration situation implies for governments in the EU. Nevertheless, we are convinced that EU Member States and Red Cross National Societies in the EU should address this feat together. We expect more from our governments and stand ready to provide our support. We therefore urge the EU to:

  • Uphold the access of all migrants, whatever their nationality or status, to humanitarian assistance and protection throughout the migratory trail, including at borders and in hotspots.
  • Ensure that National Societies of the Red Cross/Red Crescent enjoy effective access to all migrants - irrespective of their legal status - in order to deliver humanitarian assistance and protection services without being penalised.
  • Ensure that all asylum seekers have an effective right to apply for refugee status and receive protection in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention and applicable EU law. All asylum seekers must have access to legal aid, and the right to an individualised assessment of their claim.
  • Create more opportunities for safe, legal routes into Europe, including through resettlement, humanitarian visas and family reunification procedures. War and disasters often cause families to break apart, leaving children and the elderly behind. Under international and EU law, EU Member States have an obligation to facilitate family reunification.
  • Set up dedicated search and rescue operations covering the entire Mediterranean Basin, and ensure that assistance is given to migrants in distress.
  • Prioritise collaboration with other states to ensure safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian assistance to victims of conflict and violence. Durable solutions to these conflicts must be found. Otherwise, people are left with no choice but to leave their homes to ensure their and their family’s safety.

This opinion has been endorsed by:

•    Werner Kerschbaum, Secretary General, Austrian Red Cross
•    Pierre Hublet, Secretary General, Belgian Red Cross – French Community
•    Michael Adamson, CEO, British Red Cross
•    Takis Neophytou, Director General, Cyprus Red Cross
•    Anders Ladekarl, Secretary General, Danish Red Cross
•    Riina Kabi, Secretary General, Estonian Red Cross
•    Kristiina Kumpula, Secretary General, Finnish Red Cross
•    Professor Jean-Jacques Eledjam, President, French Red Cross
•    Liam O’Dwyer, Secretary General, Irish Red Cross
•    Francesco Rocca, President, Italian Red Cross
•    Uldis Likops, Secretary General, Latvian Red Cross
•    Gintarė Guzevičiūtė, Acting Secretary General, Lithuanian Red Cross
•    Paulette Fenech, Director General, Malta Red Cross
•    Gijs de Vries, CEO, Netherlands Red Cross
•    Asne Havnelid, Secretary General, Norwegian Red Cross
•    Silviu Lefter, Director General, Romanian Red Cross
•    Zuzana Rosiarová Kesegová, Secretary General, Slovak Red Cross
•    Irena Nečemer, Vice President and Legal Representative, Slovenian Red Cross
•    Javier Senent, President, Spanish Red Cross
•    Ulrika Årehed Kågström, Secretary General, Swedish Red Cross
•    Markus Mader, Director, Swiss Red Cross
•    Mr. Luís Barbosa, President, Portuguese Red Cross
•    Ms. Kristín Hjálmtýsdóttir, Secretary General, Icelandic Red Cross

The "one in, one out” agreement between the EU and Turkey aims to resettle one Syrian refugee residing in Turkey for every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greece and will see returns of all new ‘irregular’ migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands with the costs covered by the EU.

For media inquiries, please contact Eva Oyón on: or +32 2 235 09 22

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