‘Abdication of moral & legal duties’: MSF slams EU for shipping refugee suffering to Turkey

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Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has criticized a refugee deal with Turkey as an attempt by the EU to “outsource” and ship suffering “offshore” by paying its way out of the humanitarian crisis instead of trying to reverse the dire trend.

“Instead of focusing on alleviating the crisis, EU and Member States have decided to simply walk away and push it on to others. This deal threatens the right of all people to seek asylum and violates your obligation to assist each man, woman or child asking for protection,” Joanne Liu, MSF International President, wrote in an open letter.

“In an era of the greatest displacement of humanity in decades, this is a historic abdication of your moral and legal responsibilities.”

In March, EU leaders agreed on a €6 billion ($6.8 billion) aid package to help Turkey care for some three million refugees hosted in the country. Ankara also offered visa-free travel to Turks into the EU, and promised that Ankara could eventually join the bloc. But despite the agreement, Turkey continues to hold EU hostage over the refugee matter, often dictating their set of rules by which the crisis is resolved.

In the letter MSF is saying that such a deal is essentially “outsourcing care”, at the time when the NGO is working non-stop in hot spots around the wider Middle East, helping people to survive. The tone of the letter stops just short of calling EU policies a total disregard for human life.

“The 'EU-Turkey deal' effectively outsources caring for these people to Turkey in exchange for, amongst other things, a multi-billion euro financial aid package,” Liu writes. “This aid is now conditional on shipping suffering offshore, betraying the humanitarian principle of providing aid based on need alone.”

Besides offering Turkey cash to deal with the refugees, the EU agreed on a mechanism that any further migrants who cross into Greece from Turkey illegally will be sent back.

In return the EU said that any Syrian returned to Turkey would be replaced by a “legitimate” Syrian refugee resettled from Turkey to the EU. This part of the deal has also been criticized by MSF.

“Pushing people back to their country of last transit transforms asylum into nothing but a political bargaining chip to keep refugees as far away from European borders and the eyes of the European voting public as possible,” the letter says, adding that asylum seekers are left with almost no option to get a better chance at life.

With such EU migration policies, MSF is questioning whether humanitarian aid agencies should even continue their cooperation with those whose ultimate goal is not to save lives but rather to secure external borders.

Overall, MSF says that the EU-Turkey scheme is sending a “troubling signal” to the rest of the world that “countries can buy their way out of providing asylum.”

“If replicated by many nations, the concept of refugee will cease to exist. People will be trapped in warzones unable to flee for their lives, with no choice but to stay and die,” the MSF said.

Those refugees who are fortunate enough to make it into the EU are faced with appalling living conditions, that MSF calls “shameful.”

“Women fear to go to the toilet once darkness falls, mothers beg for formula milk to feed their babies, and men of all ages lose their dignity fighting over scraps of food or who is next in line,” the MSF concludes, urging EU leaders to reverse their policies.

According to Eurostat, EU member states received over 1.2 million asylum applications in 2015, a number more than double that of the previous year. The main countries of citizenship of asylum seekers, accounting for more than half of the total, were Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2016 the trend continues.