Human rights cost of Turkey deal 'too high' to be replicated elsewhere, Amnesty warns

The human rights NGO has said the deal has left thousands in squalid and dangerous living conditions and should not be replicated 

Moria Refugee camp on the island of Lesvos (Photo: Petros Tsakmakis/AP)
Moria Refugee camp on the island of Lesvos (Photo: Petros Tsakmakis/AP)

Human rights NGO Amnesty International has insisted that the EU-Turkey deal should not be replicated in other countries because it has left thousands of refugees and migrants living in squalid and dangerous living conditions.

It said that the deal, aimed at returning asylum-seekers to Turkey, is based on the premise that Turkey is safe for them, however this has left “thousands exposed to squalid and unsafe conditions on Greek Islands.” Moreover, in the new briefing, “A Blueprint for Despair,” the NGO documented unlawful returns of asylum-seekers to Turkey in what it called a “flagrant breach of their rights under international law.”

Last month, Italy, supported by the European Union, signed a €200 million agreement with Libya that will see migrant vessels blocked from leaving Libyan territorial water. In addition to this, the agreement will see a greater emphasis made on securing Libya’s Southern borders and the training of the Libyan coast guard by the EU, among other initiatives.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has defended the deal, saying that while imperfect, it is the only way for Europe to avoid a humanitarian crisis come spring, while a number of NGOs had urged the EU to avoid signing any deal with Libya.

“The EU-Turkey deal has been a disaster for the thousands who have been left stranded in a dangerous desperate and seemingly endless limbo on the Greek islands,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe.

“It is disingenuous in the extreme that European leaders are touting the EU-Turkey deal as a success, while closing their eyes to the unbearably high cost to those suffering the consequences.”

Squalid living conditions

“While there is no longer a strict detention regime, those in the camps are still unable to leave the islands,” said Amnesty International. “As a result, they are forced to endure squalid living conditions for months on end in overcrowded camps, with a lack of hot water, poor hygiene, bad nutrition, and inadequate medical care.”

The NGO said that conditions on the islands are not only degrading but also put the physical well-being and lives of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants at risk.

“In the evening of 24 November 2016, a gas canister used for cooking in Moria camp on the island of Lesvos exploded and led to the death of a 66-year old Iraqi woman and a 6-year-old child living in the adjoining tent,” Amnesty International said, adding that the hardships imposed by the poor conditions are further compounded by the residents’ fears for their own security.

It said that the poor conditions in the camps, the uncertainty refugees and migrants face about their futures, and the uneasy relations with local populations, all contribute to the significant tensions that have on occasion flared into violence. Moreover, it added that refugees were also victims of hate-motivated attacks in the Souda camp on Chios.

According to the human rights NGO, women are particularly affected by the lack of security on the Greek islands as they are often forced to live in camps and use the same shower and toilet facilities as men.

It said that many have complained of a lack of female only showers and toilets or, where they exist, of a lack of proper doors and lighting. Several women also told Amnesty International that they have either experienced or witnessed verbal or physical sexual harassment or domestic violence.

Turkey is not a safe country

The central premise of the deal to return migrants back to Turkey relies on the assumption that Turkey is safe for asylum-seekers, said Amnesty International, adding that although none have so far been formally returned from Greece to Turkey, it had documented that some asylum-seekers were sent back in a rush without being given a chance to seek asylum or appeal against their return, in breach of international law.

“For as long as Turkey is still not a safe country, the EU should work with the Greek authorities to urgently transfer asylum-seekers to mainland Greece and European governments should give them access to relocation to other countries, said Gauri van Gulik.

“Nobody should die in the cold on Europe’s doorstep. Leaders who claim the EU-Turkey deal could be a blueprint for new ones with countries like Libya, Sudan, Niger and elsewhere should look at the horrible consequences and be warned: this should never be repeated.”