On Wednesday, hundreds of migrants who had managed to cross into Macedonia were sent back into Greece, where tens of thousands of refugees are now stuck, as EU efforts to conclude a migration deal with Turkey crumbled on after European countries vowed to block key issues of the negotiations.
“Work is progressing but there is still a lot to do,” European Union president Donald Tusk said in a letter to EU leaders before Thursday’s summit in Brussels, Reuters reports.
After Spain’s foreign minister called the deal a “pact of shame,” and amid concerns about human rights and freedom of speech in Turkey,
the EU Commission released a statement of six principles of cooperation on the EU-Turkey deal on Wednesday, highlighting the necessity for Europe to come to a deal as soon as possible.
The deal will concentrate on:
- Returning migrants, whose asylum claim was rejected, to Turkey.
- A resettlement scheme where the EU will resettle a migrant directly from Turkey for every migrant Turkey takes back from the Greek islands.
- Lifting visa requirements by the end of June for Turkish citizens travelling to the EU.
- Speeding up fund distribution for refugees in Turkey.
- Accelerating Turkey’s EU accession negotiations.
- Improving humanitarian conditions inside Syria.
A slew of EU politicians and human rights association officials have come out against the deal, calling on the EU to consider Turkey’s track record on human rights and freedom of speech.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, said in a statement that Europeans could not shrug off their responsibility to welcome migrants even if they made Turkey the “gatekeeper.”
“I am deeply concerned about the proposals on the table because they involve mass expulsions of migrants without proper individual assessments and asylum procedures in direct contravention of international and European human rights laws which uphold the principle of non-refoulement,” Mr. Crépeau said, “The only way for Europe to secure its borders is to offer safe and regular channels for mobility.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, also urged caution, telling Reuters that Europe would compromise its human rights values if it failed to ensure Turkey offered protection to all refugees.
“The risk is that if, for the sake of expediency, the EU defaults on its human rights obligations, then the reputation as being one of the principle standard-bearers upholding human rights around the world would be affected,” Al Hussein said.
Cyprus is one of the European countries to come out against Turkey as it vowed to block efforts to speed up Ankara’s accession talks, which prompted Turkey to accuse the country of being fickle and say that the EU must not allow it to ruin the deal.
Donald Tusk said the migration deal needed to be “an opportunity (for Turkey) to support the settlement talks in Cyprus. Only if this is possible, can we move forward here.” The two countries have been locking horns since an attempted invasion of Cyprus by Turkey in 1974.
Spain called the proposed migrant deal a “pact of shame,” with its foreign minister saying it was unacceptable and contrary to international law.
“Spain will only accept … an agreement that is coherent, compatible to the international law, and that is extraordinarily respectful towards the human rights of the persons that need to flee from their home country,” José Manuel García-Margallo said, according to Politico.
Eager to diffuse tensions and to press ahead with the deal, European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans, said on Wednesday it was not giving Turkey a “free ride.”
He insisted that Turkey would need to comply with required measures by the end of April for the visa-free travel to be given the go-ahead and acknowledged concerns about Turkey’s human rights track record, saying the EU could better address those issues if the accession process was accelerated.
Turkey is not helping
Turkey is not making it easier for EU officials to ease concerns about freedom of speech and human rights. On Wednesday, Turkey announced plans to widen the definition of “terror crime” to include those supporting or praising acts of violence in the media. Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws have been used to jail academics and journalists who disagree with the government, mostly on the treatment of Kurds in the country.
Three academics were jailed on Tuesday for “terrorist propaganda” after publicly reading a declaration reiterating a call to end military operations against Kurds in southeastern Turkey. A Briton was also detained because he was carrying pamphlets printed by the Peoples’ Democratic Party, which has Kurdish roots.
Many have expressed concerns that the EU is so desperate to keep migrants out that it would accept any rules set by Ankara. On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to address some of those concerns when talking to the
Bundestag, saying “There will be no reneging on our own principles. (The EU) will be firm in communicating our beliefs to Turkey on issues like press freedom or dealings with the Kurds,” according to Reuters.
But the Chancellor also stressed the importance of the deal, saying it was decisive in easing the refugee crisis and that, for the first time it “gives us a chance to get a sustainable, pan-European solution to the refugee issue.”
In his statement, Crépeau once again raised concerns about increasing security and closing borders, saying it would only increase the suffering of migrants, and incite them to take even more risky journeys with smugglers.
“European member states once responsible for drafting key legislation on human rights and humanitarian protection are about to abandon their obligations. In the midst of the greatest migration crisis in Europe since world war two, they are passing their responsibility off to a third-country for political expediency,” Crépeau said.
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