Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1301, (23 - 29 June 2016)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1301, (23 - 29 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

MSF protests EU’s closed borders policy

The aid agency is the first to take action against the EU-Turkey deal that aims to stem the flow of refugees from war zones to safer countries

Al-Ahram Weekly

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, the Geneva-based international aid organization, has announced its refusal to receive further funding from European Union states and institutions in protest at the EU’s refugee policy.

In a statement on 17 June, MSF said it will no longer take funds from the EU because of its “damaging deterrence policies and intensifying attempts to push people and their suffering away from European shores”. The decision will take effect immediately and will apply to MSF projects worldwide.

In February, the EU reached a deal with Turkey to prevent the flow of migrants and refugees from war zones or unstable countries. According to MSF, more than 8,000 people — including hundreds of unaccompanied minors — have been stranded on the Greek islands as a direct consequence of the EU-Turkey deal.

They have been living in dire conditions, in overcrowded camps, sometimes for months. They fear a forced return to Turkey yet are deprived essential legal aid, their one defence against collective expulsion. The majority of these families, whom Europe has legislated out of sight, have fled conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“For months MSF has spoken out about a shameful European response focussed on deterrence rather than providing people with the assistance and protection they need,” said Jerome Oberreit, international secretary general of MSF. “The EU-Turkey deal goes one step further and has placed the very concept of ‘refugee’ and the protection it offers in danger.”

The EU-Turkey deal was implemented on 20 March. All refugees arriving to Europe after this date are subject to the terms of the deal, which include possible mass expulsion to Turkey. Under the deal, migrants traveling illegally from Turkey who arrive in Greece are deported to Turkey.

In return, Turkey is promised visa-free European travel for its citizens and a resumption of talks about EU membership. The deal also calls for a Syrian refugee to be granted asylum for every migrant returned to Turkey, but doesn’t address resettlement of refugees or migrants fleeing any other conflicts.

MSF will lose 37 million euros of funding from EU states and 19 million euros from EU institutions, but won’t be financially hurt by the decision because 92 per cent of its activities are privately funded.

Last week the European Commission unveiled a new proposal to replicate the EU-Turkey deal across more than 16 countries in Africa and the Middle East. These deals would impose trade and development aid cuts on countries that do not stem migration to Europe or facilitate forcible returns, rewarding those that do, said MSF. Among these potential partners are Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan — four of the top 10 refugee-generating countries.

“Is Europe’s only offer to refugees that they stay in countries they are desperate to flee? Once again, Europe’s main focus is not on how well people will be protected, but on how efficiently they are kept away,” said Oberreit.

EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas said MSF was not an implementing partner of EU humanitarian aid in Turkey and MSF’s decision would not affect life-saving EU humanitarian aid for refugees in Turkey or MSF operations that currently receive EU funding.

MSF described the EU-Turkey deal as setting “a dangerous precedent” for other countries hosting refugees, sending a message that caring for people forced from their homes is optional and that they can buy their way out of providing asylum.

For example, the Kenyan government cited European migration policy to justify its decision last month to close the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab, and send its residents back to Somalia. In the same vein, the deal does nothing to encourage countries surrounding Syria, already hosting millions of refugees, to open their borders to those in need, MSF said.

“Europe’s attempt to outsource migration control is having a domino effect, with closed borders stretching all the way back to Syria. People increasingly have nowhere to turn,” said Oberreit. “Will the situation in Azaz [northern Syria] where 100,000 people are blocked between closed borders and frontlines become the rule, rather than the deadly exception?”

The EU-Turkey deal’s financial package includes one billion euros in humanitarian aid. Turkey currently hosts close to three million Syrian refugees, but by agreeing to this deal Turkey appears on the receiving end of aid “negotiated as a reward for border-control promises, rather than being based solely on needs,” said MSF.

“Deterrence policies sold to the public as humanitarian solutions have only exacerbated the suffering of people in need. There is nothing remotely humanitarian about these policies. It cannot become the norm and must be challenged,” said Oberreit.

“MSF will not receive funding from institutions and governments whose policies do so much harm. We are calling on European governments to shift priorities: rather than maximising the number of people they can push back they must maximise the number they welcome and protect.”

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