By Kathryn Chaney
The most recent attempt to address the influx of refugees from the Middle East into Europe is an agreement between the European Union and Turkey, spearheaded by Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, with the backing of other member states. The goal is to balance the number of refugees arriving through the Mediterranean between Turkey and Germany — for every illegal immigrant sent back to Turkey from Greece, Germany will house one from the refugee camps in Turkey.
There are caveats that hinge on concessions made by Turkey — according to the Turkish government, some have the potential to threaten Turkey’s national security and stability. And while the proposed deal seems to provide a solution to a long-term problem in Europe, the motivation behind its implementation is questionable under the standards of international human rights law.
Before examining the bureaucracy behind the EU-Turkey deal, it is necessary to examine the makeup of the plan itself. The overall concept maintains that any migrant “who arrives in Greece illegally would be sent to Turkey.” However, as previously mentioned, the deal also stipulates that for every migrant sent back to Greece by Turkey, Germany will relieve Turkey of one refugee currently living in Turkish refugee camps. As part of the deal, Europe has promised Turkey $3 billion in aid as well as visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in the EU.
Yet, in order to gain this agreement with the EU, Turkey is required to reform certain domestic policies. In all, Turkey is required to meet 72 conditions outlined by the EU. One of these conditions maintains prevalence, however, and may influence the deal’s outcome: The EU requests that Turkey loosen its anti-terrorism laws. However, Turkey has been unwavering in its rejection of this condition, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated that his government “will not change its counter-terror laws while the army is battling Kurdish armed groups in the southeast, as well as the Islamic State of Iraq.” Given the recent attacks in Paris and across Europe, it would seem that national counter-terrorism laws could be understood within the international community, but the EU continues to request Turkey be held to a higher standard.
Nevertheless, this standard brings an interesting question to the table: If Turkey is indeed facing a domestic terrorist threat and the international threat experienced from the Islamic State still holds weight within Europe, is it justifiable for the EU to ask Turkey to make changes to its laws? Under standards of international law, national governments have the responsibility to protect their citizens. With this condition, the argument could be made that the EU is preventing Turkey from fulfilling this responsibility.
Conversely, the responsibility to protect is also threatened by the EU-Turkey refugee deal via a larger protection principle. According to an article by Luke Granville, a research fellow at the Center for Governance and Public Policy at Griffith University, countries have a responsibility to help other nations protect their own citizens from mass atrocities. Examples in which the responsibility to protect applies include instances such as the crisis in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and other Arab Spring countries with characteristics that mirror the current situation in Syria. The article goes on to express that the responsibility to protect insinuates that countries are charged with the obligation to uphold international human rights standards and protect all citizens of the international community.
The motivation behind the deal between the EU and Turkey is to decrease the amount of refugees taken in by the EU. However, Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that “everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Furthermore, in 2014, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 2139 on the conflict in Syria. The resolution condemns the mistreatment of Syrian persons by the government and attempts to lay out a comprehensive plan for humanitarian assistance. In particular, the resolution focuses on aspects of international human rights and highlights the need to protect refugees of the crisis. The discussion looks at questions regarding what type of assistance should be provided to internationally displaced persons, whether internationally displaced persons are covered by international human rights law.
By the standards of international human rights law, the EU-Turkey agreement seems a scanty and possibly evasive deal, a way for the EU to renege its responsibilities as members of the international community and avoid upholding standards of human rights via backdoor deals. The EU cannot use Turkey to deny Syrian migrants seeking asylum.