Amnesty International blames EU for Turkey’s refugee burden
Banu Şen İZMİR
Syrian refugee women line in to get food in a charity tent in southern Turkish province of Hatay. The number of migrants to Turkey from Syria has recently exceeded one million according to official figures.The policies of the European Union and its member states are putting at risk the lives and rights of refugees in a number of countries, including Turkey, Amnesty International said in a fresh report, as figures indicate that the Aegean Sea has turned into sea of illegal migrants.
Figures from Turkish coast guard officials show that the number of refugees caught on the Aegean Sea was almost 7,000 last year, dramatically up from 2,531 in 2012.
The 2014 figure surpassed 3,600 in June, high above the same point in the past two years.
Turkey does not accept legal refugees from countries in its east, but reaching Europe from Turkey via Greek islands on the Aegean is a very common route for desperate migrants.
In a revealing indicator of relative priorities, the EU spent nearly 2 billion euros in protecting its external borders between 2007 and 2013, but only 700 million euros on improving the situation for asylum-seekers and refugees within the EU over the same period, said Amnesty International’s report titled, “The human cost of Fortress Europe: Human rights violations against migrants and refugees at Europe’s borders.”
“According to the U.N. Refugee Agency there are more displaced people today than at any time since the end of the Second World War. Shockingly, the European Union’s response to this humanitarian crisis has been to add to it,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Program Director at Amnesty International.
“Almost half of those trying to enter the EU irregularly flee from conflict or persecution in countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Somalia. Refugees must be provided with more ways to enter the EU safely and legally so that they are not forced to embark on perilous journeys in the first place,” Dalhuisen added.
The number of migrants to Turkey from Syria has recently exceeded 1 million, according to official figures, as many of the runaways of the civil war in the neighboring country try their chances for a better life outside the camps designed by the Turkish government.
“The EU and member states are also cooperating with and funding neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Morocco and Libya, to create a buffer zone around the EU in an effort to stop migrants and refugees before they even reach Europe’s borders. At the same time they are turning a blind eye to the human rights abuses migrants and refugees are suffering in these countries,” the Amnesty report also stated.
“In the face of ever greater obstacles to reaching Europe by land, refugees and migrants are increasingly taking the more dangerous sea routes to Greece and Italy. Every year, hundreds of people die trying to reach Europe’s shores,” it said.
Following the tragedies off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, where more than 400 people lost their lives in 2013, Italy launched a search and rescue initiative called “Operation Mare Nostrum,” rescuing more than 50,000 people since its launch in October 2013.
Turkish officials told Hürriyet that one or two boats carrying an average of 100 illegal migrants each were caught daily in recent months.
News on July 9 seemed to prove this right, after five Syrians and one Algerian migrant were saved by coast guards off Çanakkale, before being handed to the gendarmerie. Some 18 others were caught on the same day off Aydın.
Some 28 people have been arrested in Turkey this year so far for human trafficking on the Aegean Sea.
“The responsibility for the deaths of those trying to reach the EU is a collective responsibility. Other EU member states can and must follow Italy’s lead and stop people drowning at sea by bolstering search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean and the Aegean,” said Amnesty’s Dalhuisen.
“The human tragedies unfolding every day at Europe’s borders are neither inevitable, nor beyond the EU’s control. Many are of the EU’s making. EU member states must, at last, start putting people before borders,” he added.