Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic driving headlines around the world. This week, we speak with The Guardian's migration correspondent Patrick Kingsley about the EU-Turkey plan on the refugee crisis.
The proposal outlined on Monday in the Belgian capital Brussels says all migrants who travel from Turkey to Greece will be returned to the Turkish nation. However, for every person sent back to Syria, one Syrian already in Turkey would be resettled in a European country. In exchange, Turkey is seeking more aid to cope with their refugee crisis, visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to Europe and to speed up country's application to join the EU. Leaders intend to discuss the plan further next week.
The plan immediately raised concerns across Europe. Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said the blanket return of migrants to Turkey might not be legal under international law protecting refugees. Human rights group Amnesty International called the plan a "death blow to the right to seek asylum.” Journalists facing a crackdown in Turkey worried the EU might be "turning a blind eye" to the country's human rights abuses to secure a deal on refugees.
The WorldPost spoke to Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian's first migration correspondent, about the proposed deal. His book The New Odyssey: The Story of Europe's Refugee Crisis includes reporting from 17 countries along the European migration trail last year. It will be published in May.
Do you think the EU-Turkey plan will deter migrants and refugees from making the journey to Europe?
If this plan goes ahead -- and that’s a big if -- it could act as a deterrent. The EU are saying that under the term of the plan, people arriving on the Greek islands from now on will not only be sent back to Turkey, but sent to the back of the queue for resettlement.
However, it would be a deterrent only along that route [from Turkey to Greece via the Aegean Sea.] There are many other routes that people can try. If the plan goes ahead, we can expect a rise in irregular migration towards Europe via other routes over the coming months, including via Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, perhaps even through the Black Sea towards Ukraine.
The lesson we have learnt about migration over decades is that if you close one route, another opens up, and more and more people still come. For example, when it became difficult to get to Spain via the Canary Islands, people tried to reach Europe via Libya, and when Libya became hard, people came via Greece, and when Hungary’s fences closed, people went via Croatia.
Would you expect some people to still try to come via the Aegean Sea, even if this plan was implemented?
I think there will be a decrease in the numbers of people crossing, but that’s not hard given that the numbers are currently so high. I think we’ll see fewer and fewer families, who are the majority of the flow at the moment -- more than half are women and children. That will change because the routes will become more physically demanding and more expensive, making it harder for parents to pay for children to come. It will be harder for husbands to pay for their wives to come. I don’t think it’s going to end migration to Europe, however.
Is the proposal to return all migrants arriving in Greece back to Turkey feasible?
It’s going to require trust from the EU and Turkey. I’m skeptical that both sides are going to believe that the other is really going to uphold this deal, given the lack of trust in the past.
It’s also very tough to send back such a high number of people. How are you going to return tens of thousands of people? How are you going to house them in the meantime? How are you going to deal with the legal challenges? There’s severe logistical challenges that have to be overcome.
The lesson we have learnt about migration over decades is that if you close one route, another opens up, and more and more people still come.
Is it legal to return migrants to Turkey en masse?
I think it’s pretty clear it is illegal, because it goes against the U.N. convention on refugees, and against the EU’s own legislation. There’s also the overriding ethical point -- that these kind of international treaties were created in the aftermath of the Second World War, by quite enlightened statesmen who felt that no matter the administrative and financial cost, there are some values that are worth upholding, otherwise we end up back where we were in the 1930s. I think we have to think long and hard as a society about returning to those political nadirs.
What does this proposal mean for non-Syrians, such as Afghans and Iraqis, seeking asylum in Europe?
It makes things far worse for people who aren’t Syrian. Under the terms of this agreement, if you’re Syrian at least you still have the hope of being resettled in Europe. It says nothing about Iraqis and Afghans. It’s suggesting that if you come from any country other than Syria your reasons for claiming asylum are not as valid. Obviously that’s incorrect. People could be fleeing from Mosul in Iraq, or someone in Afghanistan who worked for the Americans is fleeing the Taliban as a result. We are saying these people are de facto less worthy of our help than people in Syria, and that’s clearly wrong.
In practical terms, it will mean that they will create different routes in other places, creating a big problem six months to a year down the line. We may appear to have cleared up the situation in the Aegean Sea, but then there will be another hot spot opening up somewhere else.
Does that increase the dangers of the journey, as the route shifts again?
It drives more people towards smugglers, which puts them more at risk. The reason why we had this semi-formalized, almost humanitarian corridor through the Balkans -- until this week -- was in the aftermath of when 71 people were found dead, putrefying in the back of a truck on an Austrian motorway. We can expect more of these kinds of things if you close down semi-legal route into Europe.
Did Turkey get too much from the EU in return, as the current proposal stands?
I don’t think what they have been offered is a massive deal for Turkey. They have been offered some money, which is helpful when you’re trying to deal with a refugee crisis of half a million people, but its not the be-all and end-all. They have a promise of some kind of new visa regime -- which is going to be welcome in Turkey, but it’s not going to help them cope with so many refugees, and its not even clear if Europe is really going to deliver on this.
What would really help Turkey would be if there was a large scale resettlement program bringing refugees directly from Turkey to Europe and the rest of the Western world. I’ve heard lots of talk about that, and it may yet happen. But that’s not part of this deal.
The proposal may not even increase resettlement. It’s been called "one-in one-out", but it’s really none-in none-out, because if it succeeds in deterring Syrians from fleeing to Greece, there will be no obligation to resettle the Syrians in Turkey.
It seems like the failure to provide legal routes for resettlement was the "original sin" of the migrant crisis.
The original sin of the crisis was the Syrian war. But it is not widely understood how much the absence of a mass resettlement scheme played a role in creating a crisis of this scale.
Because Western countries did not set up a significant resettlement scheme within five years of the war starting, this created an environment in which it was inevitable that large numbers of people would eventually make their way to Europe in this very chaotic fashion. Western countries may have calculated there was a choice between resettlement, and no migration at all. Whereas in reality, if these types of conflicts go on long enough, the choice is between chaotic migration or orderly migration.
This was a real strategic error by Western governments two or three years ago. They thought they could get away without taking anyone to Europe, but people came anyway because they were fed up with spending five years in countries in the Middle East where they didn’t have the right to work, access to education, a safe life or the kind of future that they are afforded under the terms of the Geneva Convention. Their situation showed no sign of abating because the war in Syria is getting worse, and the situation in Turkey has remained the same. Once they realized that if they took a boat to Greece and made their way through Europe they could claim asylum and get their rights as refugees under the Geneva Convention, it becomes a pretty obvious choice.
It’s been called one-in one out-in, but it’s really none-in none-out.
From your reporting over the past year, what do you think would be a more ethical and effective European response to the migration crisis?
Europe needs to step up mass resettlement schemes. While this is going to require great administrative and financial efforts, as far as I can see there’s no alternative to it. People are going to try and come anyway, and the sooner we can try and manage that process, the easier it will become. If you create resettlement schemes, people feel like there is a point to staying put in the Middle East, because in the long term this might lead to them being given a safe and legal passage to the West, and then they don’t have to risk death in the rolling seas.
There is also an advantage to Western governments of resettlement schemes because at least they can decide when people arrive, where they will go, and can screen people in advance to weed out anyone who they think might be a potential terrorist. For example, Canada’s resettlement program has allowed the country to prepare, as people arrive at specific times to specific places. Germany can’t currently do the same because they don’t know who’s coming, when they’re coming or where exactly they’re coming.
Once people who might have gone in a more chaotic fashion decide to stay in their countries in the hope of being resettled in a more orderly fashion, everyone wins. Refugees win because they don’t drown. And Western countries win because they don’t get people turning up in droves in an unmanageable way.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.