by Robyn Banks

This International Women’s day was supposed to be devoted to refugee women. Well, it was in name — the EU parliament website published a series of articles highlighting the plight of women refugees, such as the fact that two in five are underage. But as EU leaders hammered out a deal on the long night between Mother’s day and International Women’s day, it seemed that the only thing the EU really planned on doing to help women refugees was to use them as fodder for a Brussels photo exhibit.

For a long time, people in the EU from both left and right have been questioning if what they see is really what they get, and nothing is more exemplary of this dishonesty than the EU’s recent deal with Turkey. On two days when much fanfare was made about Mothers, about the trauma of women refugees, about family reunification, we learned about the EUs most absurd plan to date. The plan involves a one in, one out scheme whereby boats crossing to Greece from Turkey carrying ‘irregular’ or ‘illegal’ migrants — e.g. everybody not using official channels, refugee or otherwise — would be intercepted and forcibly turned back. In return for paying their life savings and risking their lives to make the dangerous crossing to Europe by dinghy, they will be sent to the ‘back of the queue’ for asylum seeking.

Why the EU has settled on Syria as the only country worth hosting from is beyond me

For every ‘one out’ the EU will resettle a Syrian refugee from Turkey, which hosts 2.5 million refugees, which will be the ‘one in’. But this only applies to Syrian refugees. If a boat carrying 60 people is intercepted, and two of them are Syrian, the EU will resettle two Syrian refugees from Turkey. Just not the same ones — those people apparently deserve to be punished. Why the EU has settled on Syria as the only country worth hosting from is beyond me — it leaks the largest number of refugees yet, and much fanfare has been made in the media about the plight of Syria, but its high numbers are very closely followed by several other nations, such as Afghanistan and Somalia which saw 2.6 million and 1.1 million refugees respectively leaving in 2014 alone.

(Refugees wait before getting into a train that will take them to a host town in Germany. © Marie Dorigny / European Union 2015)

The UN and Amnesty international have both come out against the plan, pointing out that it makes the resettlement of Syrian refugees dependent upon others breaking the law and risking their lives. They don’t think this would ‘break the link’ in the smuggler chain but incentivise smugglers in Ankara to continue. The international organisation of migration warned that it could push people fleeing back in to the hands of Daesh and increase resentment towards EU member states. Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s Europe regional director, warned that “The collective expulsion of foreigners is prohibited under the European Convention of Human Rights. 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.” Meanwhile, president of the EU council Tusk boasted that the ‘days of irregular migration are over’.

For non-Syrians, Europe is cut off completely.

In reality, this amounts to nothing more than a pushing of European responsibilities on to a struggling nation. We cannot end irregular migration until we have a system in place to allow refugees to enter regularly- to state that at this time is to simply state that the days of refugees arriving in Europe are over. For non-Syrians, Europe is cut off completely.

Instead of policing our own borders, we expect Turkey to police them for us — a nation which has a population of 75 million and a GDP per capita of $9,000 compared to the EU’s a population of more than 500 million and gross domestic product per capita of about $27,000. In return, the EU would grant them £3.3billion (EUROS) to help them with the large number of refugees they are already struggling to house humanely, but Turkey has used its leverage as the EU’s new border guard to demand twice that much and to speed up plans to integrate Turkish citizens in to the EU’s free movement system. It’s fair that if they are asked to take the burdens of the EU that they also ask for some of the highlights, but in our desperation to designate Turkey a ‘safe third country’ we’ve undermined our own supposed values- while Human Rights are apparently a non-negotiable element of access to EU freedoms, the president used this opportunity to seize and close down an opposition newspaper knowing that the EU needs Turkey too much to complain.

(© New Statesman)

The EU has failed its obligations to the world and fallen short on its promises. Last September, it agreed to resettle 66,000 refugees from Greece, but has only managed 600 of that number. Now, its supposed commitment to human rights is being conveniently swept under the carpet. Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said that “Using Turkey as a ‘safe third country’ is absurd. Many refugees still live in terrible conditions, some have been deported back to Syria and security forces have even shot at Syrians trying to cross the border.” To date, there are 15 member states who have not accepted any refugees at all.

And now, the EU is acting as though it is above the law. Save the Children, the UK-based charity, said that in Europe, one in four asylum applicants is a child, and stated  “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.”

Across Europe borders have been slammed shut in the faces of the needy, international laws have been broken and human rights abuses have been rife.

What is left now of our grand European ideals? Across Europe borders have been slammed shut in the faces of the needy, international laws have been broken and human rights abuses have been rife. Most of the humanitarian aid for refugees has been led by charities such as MSF and ordinary people who have volunteered. Without this action, Europe would have a lot more blood on its hands, and it’s highly suggestive that the EU couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. Even in the event that the precious Schengen zone is revived and the EU begins to live up to its promises, David Cameron has stated that that the UK has the option to completely opt-out and to continue policing British borders on its own terms- and the UK has never been in the Schengen zone anyway.

(Migrants cry and walk towards Gevgelija in Macedonia after crossing Greece’s border © Lisa Schlein)

Last night, I watched a documentary in which a refugee woman in Dunkirk cried. Her baby had measles, but she had 5 other children with her and was too afraid of leaving them alone to take the baby to the hospital, where doctors all agreed the baby should be. She was put in the position of choosing between her children, and I highly recommend you watch it. Meanwhile, the right-wing press has reported that were Britain to leave the EU, the French state would pay for every migrant in Calais and Dunkirk to be sent immediately to Dover. Now that’s something I can vote for.

Featured image © Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Image 

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