April 2, 2016 published at AnalyzeGreece
by Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos
Syran Refugees. Photo: James Nachtwey/ΤimeSyrian Refugees. Photo: James Nachtwey/Τime
Some thoughts on the deal of shame between EU-Turkey
It only took four months for Wolfgang Schäuble’s “sincere” statement regarding the refugees –namely that “They are not desired in Europe”– to become a guideline for the whole of the European Union, at the helm of which, and let us bear this in mind, are neither Marine Le Pen nor Nigel Farage, as yet. It took just four months to dismiss the supposed “war against the peoples’ smugglers” doctrine and explicitly acknowledge through the EU-Turkey Agreement, that the aim of the EU is to “put an end to the refugee flows.” And just like that, along with the pretexts, the commitment of the member states to the Geneva Convention and to the New York Protocol, came to an end: a commitment to a framework of international protection which obliged the Western World to remember what happened in the past to those populations that were regarded as redundant, so that history does not repeat itself.
By no means is the existing framework of international protection an anthem an ideal solution to the open borders. On the contrary, it excludes the “irregular” immigrants, and by this exclusion, it forces them to confront the consequences of decoupling immigration policy from labour policy, from as far back as the beginning of 2000, leaving immigrants exposed to the “parallel legality” of mass arrests, refoulements and refugee camps. However, even if it excluded, even if it restricted someone with familiar obstacles when applying for and receiving asylum, this framework covered at least the refugees. Today this protection, and all the historical burden of the World War II behind it, have been canceled. This cancellation was celebrated by the Greek government as a “step forward” and a “diplomatic success”; the same cancellation that the Head of the British department of Amnesty International has hailed as a “dark day for the Geneva Convention, Europe and the mankind,” while UNICEF added that from now on minor refugees and immigrants will be returned to Turkey, where they will face an uncertain future.
No reason: the Pre-announced End to the International Protection
The cancellation of the Geneva Convention is a historical change, a change to a continuity. What I mean to say is that it is not the current “objective” of the refugee “crisis” that annuls the protection of refugees in practice, but the effort of the European states to shake off its “burden” over the years. This effort goes back more than a decade, when the present flows, as well as the economic crisis with which they intersect, could not be possibly have been predicted.
In March 2003, Tony Blair presented the European partners with a plan for “improving the management of the refugee flows,” based on two axes: improvement of the protection that refugees receive in countries neighbouring to their country of origin (in any case away from prospering Europe…) and setting up asylum request centres outside the European Union. The project would be financed by the European Commission from July 2003 and its pilot implementation was planned to take place secretly in Croatia, which back then was not a member of the “European family.”
On the same wavelength, out of the 4 billion euros that the EU allocated during the period 2007-2013 to the immigration and refugee policy, about half of it (1,82 billion) was directed to border controls, whereas just 17% went to the support of the asylum procedures. In September 2014, at a time when the bloodshed in Syria had already uprooted millions of people, the British NGO Oxfam maintained that “the rich countries have committed themselves to offer safe haven to 37.432 people, which is 1% out of the 3 million refugees in the neighbouring countries”. In October 2014, when Italy terminated the Mare Nostrum operation, thanks to which more than 150.000 people had been rescued at sea within a year, the Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano stated that the aim of the government was to “entrust the examination of the asylum seekers to outposts of the EU in Africa, where they would assess who is entitled asylum status and who is not.” The Spanish Prime Minister shared the same objective, that is to “externalise” the responsibility for the refugees, seeking ways of rejecting the asylum requests, if possible, before they enter the country by crossing the Moroccan borders.
Last summer indications showed that something was about to change, with a provision that 160.000 refugees from Greece and Italy would be relocated to other EU countries. Out of 160.000 refugees, however, only 937 people were included in this programme.
The End of the Illusion: the Greek Government played a Key Role to putting an End to the Geneva Convention
Let us go back to the EU-Turkey Agreement. A key to the suspension of the right to receive asylum, Liberation points out, is the recognition of Turkey as a safe third country. This is the legal framework, the European Commission has come up with since Wednesday: if someone applies for asylum in Greece, their file will be examined at a certain hot-spot and if it turns out that they came in Greece through Turkey, a safe third country, their request will be rejected. According to euro2day.gr, this was a request on the part of the Greek Prime Minister: “we call EASO and the European Commission,” it is stated in the relevant document, “to contribute by submitting reports that confirm that Turkey, as a first country of asylum and as a third country, is safe,” as if the government is clueless of the issues of security in our neighbouring country. As if anyone would be persuaded by the very same chorus we listen to repeatedly after every failure, as we have done already in this case: “if only you knew how much worse things would have been otherwise…”
The Refugee Crisis is Neither Exceptional nor Temporary
All those who scarcely followed the developments of the refugee issue should know that the refugee “crisis,” which was supposed to be solved by the Agreement, is nothing more than the predictable impasse of a European policy focused on managing/ preventing the “unwanted” strangers – an impasse against the equally foreseeable consequences of the lingering bloodshed in the Middle East.
As far as Greece is concerned, the duration and the dimension of the “crisis” could have been predicted from at least mid-2014: the humanitarian crisis in the islands of the North Eastern Aegean Sea and the urgent needs for accommodation and medical treatment, which were brought to light by the hunger strike of the Syrian people in December 2014, had signified the issue. Nevertheless, the EU as well as the Greek governments dealt with it as if it was a temporary phenomenon.
In view of the worsening crisis, which is any case difficult to handle by means of a ruined state apparatus, the present government took some initiative contrary to the misanthropic policy of New Democracy such as prohibiting the refoulements and by abolishing the detention centres. In its second term of office, however, at best it took responsibilities by receiving refugees aiming (in vain) at a certain debt relief, exploiting instrumentally and shortsightedly the humanitarian offer of millions of people all over the country. In the worst case, by denouncing the people who showed their solidarity as “ignorant,” “idealists” or even instigators of illegal actions, the Greek government adjusted to other versions of the European anti-refugee policy: it accepted the militarisation (fences, Frontex, NATO), vehemently argued for the position that “Turkey should receive all the refugees,” and finally opened up the refugee camps, foreshadowing mass refoulements of the “irregular” immigrants. To cut a long story short, not only did it not open the borders, as it was provocatively accused by the right-wing parties, but has already counted more than 300 drowned refugees in the Greek seas.
At the same time, it took no action in order to activate the European Directive 2001/55/EC, for which Syiriza pressed so hard when it was member of the opposition. The Greek Government refused to involve the army to aid with accommodation and feeding efforts, before it finally delegated the whole management of the refugee issue to it. It never occurred to the Greek government to plan ahead for refugee settlements, although the sealing of the Western Balkans’ Route was foreshadowed in several formal documents as far back as October 2015, alluding to the confinement of tens of thousands refugees in the country. Having started from the right position, that the refugee issue is not a national one, but rather a European issue, the government did not think that it should come up with a national plan, apart from fulfilling last minute needs, which were to be covered by the NGOs, as Y. Mouzalas admitted in an interview he gave to SKAI TV. In an effort to balance its role as a guardian and a policeman, the Greek government embraced the assessment that short and long term national planning would weaken the negotiating position of the country against the EU, if it would not be regarded as a signal to the people’s smugglers. Just like that, the deliberate inability of the state apparatus was promoted whereas the negotiating “tool” of the country was exhausted at protecting the national sovereignty of the Aegean Sea, before the well-known eccentricities of the ministers fighting for Macedonia take place.
And now what? (Without illusions)
At the moment the number of refugees in Greece amounts to 46.000. While the Agreement with Turkey is waiting be approved by the Greek parliament, according to the Greek government, Idomeni and the islands are going to be evacuated promptly and the people will be directed to the reception centres. Up to this moment, there is no guarantee about the conditions as well as the stay of the refugees in the country.
While the Greek government is committed only by an agreement that abolishes the right to asylum in a safe country and New Democracy pushes for a fiercer implementation of it, it is urgent that this agreement is put to question. First of all, it should not be ratified by the Greek Parliament. Secondly, the spatial segregation of the refugees should be questioned by the very Greek society; the refugees should come to the cities and to the neighborhoods. The accommodation centres do not constitute a solution for a population, which due to the closed borders has no other possibility than to stay in the country. The fulfillment of the needs of the refugees by NGOs is equally precarious; this condition, which has been encouraged by the European Committee by financing humanitarian organisations instead of the government, consolidates that the state withdraws from critical functions that are addressed to the whole of the Greek society, as well as the refugees. The policy of the intentional inability, as a means of pressure towards the EU, jeopardises people’s lives and should be abandoned. In view of a historical regression, the solidarity movement should not be taken for granted; for the time being, however, it is our only counterweight to horror.
Translated by Anastasia Lambropoulou
First published in Greek on k-lab, 21.3.2016.