Proposals to send back refugees en masse from the European Union to Turkey would contravene their right to protection under European and international law, agencies and rights groups say. Europe has not even fulfilled its agreement last September to relocate 66,000 refugees from Greece, redistributing only 600 to date within the 28-nation bloc.
"The collective expulsion of foreigners is prohibited under the European Convention of Human Rights," Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's Europe regional director said, "An agreement that would be tantamount to a blanket return of any foreigners to a third country, is not consistent with European law, is not consistent with international law."
The United Nations 1951 Convention on Refugees bans expulsions except on grounds of public order. International asylum rules say all applications have to be properly reviewed, and asylum seekers cannot be returned to a country that does not offer proper protection. The plan could also fall foul of EU rules – Article 19 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights bans collective expulsions.
“The parties failed to say how individual needs for international protection would be fairly assessed during the rapid-fire mass expulsions they agreed would take place,” says Bill Frelick from Human Rights Watch. "The integrity of the EU's asylum system, indeed the integrity of European values, is at stake."
Alexander Betts, director of the Refugees Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, said the plan was a set of "appalling proposals on all human rights and international legal grounds". He said Turkey needs "an asylum system that can guarantee the protection of refugees' rights and the socio-economic integration of Syrian refugees" before European leaders should consider returning refugees.
Save the Children, said that in Europe, one in four asylum applicants is a child. "Any returns of individuals who have not had their asylum applications properly considered, or who are returned to a country where they do not have the right to international protection, would be illegal under international refugee law," it said in a statement.
The medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said European leaders had "lost track of reality". Aurelie Ponthieu, MSF humanitarian affairs adviser on displacement, said: "Europe is willing to do anything, including compromising essential human rights and refugee law principles, to stem the flow of refugees and migrants. It is time European leaders stopped fuelling the policy-created European migration crisis and provide the only realistic and humane response: safe and legal passage and humanitarian assistance and protection to those in need."
The ‘deal’ envisages is the forced collective expulsion of migrants and refugees from Greece to Turkey. If the refugees are a cause of crisis, how does the EU imagine that off-loading them to Turkey is any less of a crisis? How do you solve a crisis? By pushing far enough away from your gaze that you can pretend that it's no longer there? That at least appears to be the European Union approach. Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU commissioner for migration, has described the bottleneck of migrants and refugees in Greece, created by the closing of borders further north, as raising "the possibility of a humanitarian crisis of a large scale". Why should bottling migrants up in Turkey rather than in Greece be any different?
Turkey with a population one seventh that of the EU is already host to 2.7 million Syrian refugees. (Those are the official figures; the real number is likely to be more than three million.) There are already 1.3 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon - 20 percent of the population. That is the equivalent of Europe playing host to 100 million refugees. Pakistan and Iran each have over one million refugees within their borders. Some of the poorest countries in the world, in other words, already bear the greatest burden when it comes to helping refugees. If these countries were to adopt Europe's attitude, then there would really be a crisis. The island of Lesbos is at the very centre of the crisis. The number of migrants and refugees who have arrived on the island in the first two months of 2016 alone is about the same as Lesbos' normal population. Yet, the locals continue to support migrants with food, shelter and solidarity. "It is amazing" the UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres told Lesbos Mayor Spyros Galinos, "that on a small island you are managing, whereas in a big Europe, with half a billion people, they are finding it so difficult".
About 35,000 Syrian refugees are gathered at the Bab al-Salama border near Turkey's borders, hoping to find a safe haven in neighbouring Turkey but this time its doors were firmly shut. But today, Turkish officials say the country has reached its limit and its borders are, to all intents and purposes, closed. Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, said: "There is a moral, if not legal, duty to provide protection." But Turkish analysts say that the EU was expecting Turkey to "perform a miracle". They emphasised that Turkey could not resolve this humanitarian crisis alone and said it was essential for Europe to carry its share of the burden. "Regarding the refugee crisis, expectations of the EU and Turkey are miles apart," said Murat Erdogan, director of the Migration and Politics Research Centre at Ankara-based Hacettepe University. "Right now, Turkey is trying to figure out how it will educate these people and find jobs for them, while the EU's biggest concern is to stop refugees from reaching its shores at any cost," he said.
The Turkish government declared that it would be offering Syrian refugees work permits for the first time. The government claimed that obtaining work permits would discourage refugees from crossing illegally into the EU. But analysts are sceptical of whether this policy will work. "The work permits are really important. If you want to convince people to stay in Turkey, you have to give them the opportunity to live an honourable life. We have passed the point at which giving them a loaf of bread and a blanket is sufficient," said Erdogan. "The work permits are not going to change anything. Maybe some of the highly skilled refugees will manage to get a job and make a living, but the majority of Syrians will keep working illegally for unacceptable wages, as they do today. And as a result, they will keep trying to reach Europe." Other analysts concurred. Syrian refugees, according to Anna Tuson, director of communications for the Istanbul-based NGO Small Projects, are looking for low-skill employment. "They do not have the language skills or the necessary support network, so they are forced into the unskilled job market. And that market is already saturated in Turkey. Employers will not be eager to hire them," said Tuson, whose NGO works with Syrian refugees. Tuson also criticised the EU's plan to give Turkey funds to deal with the immigration crisis on its own. "This is not a plan that can work," she said. "Turkey already has problems with its education system and the employment market is not in good shape either. This burden needs to be shared between other countries, especially the European countries which have strong economies and job markets; they should take the refugees in. I think it is unrealistic to think that Turkey can deal with the majority of these refugees singlehandedly."
Safaa Sayah, a Syrian refugee living in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa, echoed similar views. "Even if a refugee can manage to secure a work permit," she said, "he or she cannot overcome the language barrier, find acceptable work or afford decent accommodation." Sayah, who currently works for an NGO in Sanliurfa, says that she has four siblings living in Europe and can see how much more European governments are able to offer those refugees who make it across their borders. "In Turkey, the government is providing you with nothing. But if you go to Europe and apply for asylum, you will get support from the government. Knowing this, what would you do? Would you stay in Turkey? Of course you would go to Europe". Sayah argued that the recent developments in Syria were only making the refugees' situation in Turkey worse. "The Turkish government is stuck. They can't improve the conditions of the Syrian refugees living in the country at the moment. Many Syrians in Turkey know that the only future they can have is in Europe."
Turkish guards routinely shoot at Syrian refugees stranded at the border, a researcher at Amnesty International. “There have been many reports of incidents on the border. We collected information on this as early as 2014, when we received many reports of people being shot when they were trying to cross the border irregularly,” according to Andrew Gardner “Now, the information we received via Syria doctors is that there are reports of two or three people being shot every day trying to cross the border irregularly,” he said. Gardner added that the only way to resolve the problem of the migrant flow was to make legal crossing points for refugees on the border with Turkey, and said Ankara “should not have to hold the responsibility for hosting refugees alone.” To alleviate the issue, the researcher urged EU members to accept bigger migrant quotas and advised Russia to accept more refugees from neighboring countries