Turkey faces problem of refugees returning from Greece

Friday 08/04/2016
A Turkish police officer escorts a migrant after a vessel transporting migrants from Greek island Chios docked in Dikili port, Turkey, on April 4th.

Istanbul - As refugees are being de­ported from Greece to Turkey under a contro­versial deal between the European Union and Ankara, the Turkish government is coming under increasing pressure to modernise its asylum laws.

Refugees, most of them from Asian countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, are being deported from Greek islands to Turkish ports.

Under the agreement between the European Union and Turkey, refugees who entered Greece il­legally since March 20th will be deported to Turkey. In return, Eu­ropean countries agreed to take in up to 72,000 Syrian refugees from Turkish camps. The first group of 32 Syrians arrived in Germany by plane from Turkey on April 4th as ferries took about 200 refugees to Turkey from Greece.

The plan is designed to stop il­legal mass migration into the Eu­ropean Union by showing refugees and people smugglers that passage to Greece is futile, after more than 800,000 people reached EU coun­tries in 2015. According to UN fig­ures, the number of refugees reach­ing Greece from Turkey had fallen to an average of 425 a day, a big drop compared to several thousand daily arrivals last summer.

Human rights activists, migration experts and politicians, however, say the project fails to give refugees a chance to have their cases heard. Turkey says non-Syrians will be re­turned to their home countries.

Belgium’s former prime minis­ter Guy Verhofstadt said the deal ignored Turkey not having proper laws to provide a safe environment for refugees. The country insists on geographical limitations in the UN Refugee Convention, which means that people from Asia, Africa or the Middle East who are not granted refugee status in Turkey, are not allowed to work and face deporta­tion. Syrians receive temporary pro­tection because of the war in their home country.

“A condition of the deal to allow the return of asylum seekers from Europe was Turkey’s commitment to honour all protocols of the Ge­neva Conventions,” Verhofstadt said in a statement posted on the website of the European Liberals and Democrats, a political alliance he leads. “However, the Turkish parliament has not yet approved the necessary legislative changes to their domestic laws. This is simply unacceptable.”

While there are no plans to lift the geographical limitations, Turk­ish officials said their government is in talks with 14 countries about readmission agreements. Ankara says the number of refugees in the country — about 2.7 million Syrians and 300,000 non-Syrians — will not increase as a result of the deal with the European Union.

There is clearly unease among the public. In Dikili, residents staged a protest march when rumours spread of alleged plans to build a refugee camp near their town. “Leave Dikili alone,” said one banner.

There were similar protests near the southern city of Kahraman­maras, where authorities are build­ing a refugee camp for 27,000 pre­dominantly Sunni Syrians close to several villages populated by Ale­vis, a religious minority with ties to Shia Islam.

Murat Erdogan, a professor at An­kara’s Hacettepe University and a leading Turkish migration expert, said the government’s plan to send non-Syrian refugees to their respec­tive countries would probably not work. “It will not be easy to send those people back, just like a pack­age in the mail,” Erdogan said. He said countries might refuse to take their citizens back.

“More than 90% [of refugees re­turning from Greece] will end up staying in Turkey,” he said. “Turkey will have to give them some sort of legal status.”

Erdogan said another effect of the deal was that Turkey would probably attract more migrants from poorer countries since it was becoming more difficult to reach Western Europe.

“For these people, it is not bad to stay in Turkey,” as living conditions were better than in their own coun­tries, he said. “This new phase has already started,” the professor said in reference to Afghan, Iraqi and other migrants. “Turkey doesn’t know what to do.”

Some say Ankara is resorting to illegal moves. Amnesty Interna­tional, a rights group, accused Turk­ish authorities of having deported Afghan and Syrian refugees to their home countries against their will.

“The ink wasn’t even dry on the EU-Turkey deal when several dozen Afghans were forced back to a coun­try where their lives could be in danger,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a state­ment. He added that the incident “highlights the risks of returning asylum seekers to Turkey — and the knock-on effects the deal is likely to have for refugees transiting through Turkey”.

Based on what it said was its own research on the Turkish-Syri­an border, Amnesty International said Turkey had been sending back about 100 Syrians to their country every day since mid-January. Anka­ra rejected both accusations, saying all returns had been on a voluntary basis.