Turkey is not a safe country – Migration is not a threat
Brussels, 4/03/16 – Over the past few months, the European Union (EU) has deployed all possible efforts, including military means, to secure its border against what it has relentlessly and wrongly presented as a threat to its internal security. By turning a blind eye to human rights violations in Turkey and to its own international obligations towards migrants and refugees, the EU and its Member States are directly and outrageously putting the lives of millions at risk.
On 7 March 2016, the heads of EU’s states and governments will meet with Turkish officials in Brussels, following a meeting in Ankara with Turkish Prime Minister and President as well as with NATO and Frontex officials, both to be held today on 4th March 2016. Since October 2015, the European Commission and its Member States unfold their “EU-Turkey cooperation plan on migration” which aims to ‘stem migration flows’, as put very straight by the chair of the EU’s Council himself.
A number of measures have been taken to implement this plan, including pushing for the listing of Turkey as safe country of origin, for the re-negociation of the (in)famous EU-Turkey 2014 readmission agreement so non-Turkish nationals can be sent back to Turkey earlier than originally planned, and deploying civil and military defense means against migrants and refugees (Frontex; NATO operation). In the meantime, member states have not even committed to the very limited resettlement and relocation targets they had agreed on.
In return, Turkish authorities have had no qualms conditioning their cooperation upon the granting of 3 billion EUR, a “dirty deal” widely denounced by human rights organisations. Such cooperation, is not only morally wrong but also illegal. By forcing people away from its territory by all means, the European Union is breaching the right to leave any country and the right to seek asylum, thereby violating its own legal obligations pursuant to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Geneva Convention relating to the status of Refugees. It potentially exposes people to discrimination if not violence in Turkey, where the human rights situation has hardly been so bad.
Acknowledging Turkey’s important contribution to the humanitarian support of refugees from Syria over the past few years should not overshadow the very concerning developments which have stained Turkey’s human rights record in an unprecedented way over the past few months.
This worrying situation includes growing insecurity for refugees from Syria in Turkey: at least three Syrian activists documenting human rights violations by Da’esh were killed, and one Syrian journalist was arrested and held incommunicado for three days in February 2016. The closure of the Syrian border and the imposition of visas since January 2016 to Syrian nationals willing to enter Turkey by flight has dramatically increased the vulnerability of refugees left stranded in a war-torn country. Family reunification, as well as freedoms of association, assembly and movement of Syrian refugees in Turkey are also restricted by the imposition of specific permits for domestic travel (by air and ground).
At a domestic level, the country is steadily drifting away from the rule of law and democratic governance. In the South-east regions, as the conflict opposing the PKK to the Turkish government grew hot again, the authorities have been imposing 58 total curfews since August 2015 on 19 districts of 7 cities (affecting around 1.4 million people), some of them for months in a row, amounting to collective punishment. Serious human rights violations by security forces such as extrajudicial killings, torture and violations of the neutrality of medical staff and premises have been documented by human rights organisations. In parallel, the authorities have cracked-down on any expression of critic or dissent, jailing journalists, political opponents, and human rights defenders. The fierce repression of academics who signed a statement for peace is the latest example of the incapacity of Turkish authorities to tolerate diverging opinions, and the manipulation of the judicial system to serve their repressive purpose.
While the notion of « safe country » is, per se, at odds with the notion of asylum, the EU’s plan to list Turkey as safe is nothing less than a voluntary blindness for the sake of border management. Be it for minority groups and opponents in Turkey, or for foreigners, Turkey cannot be deemed safe.
The European Union has sadly left these human rights violations unaddressed and deliberately ignored the authoritarian drift of its interlocutor, making its human rights commitments a pure wishful thinking.
The safeguarding of human rights cannot be hijacked for the sake of border management, especially when deployed against men, women, and children. It is high time the European Union uses its diplomatic tools to challenge perpetrators of human rights violations if it wants to hold true to its values and obligations*.