'Europe's refugee shame': Doctors Without Borders rejects EU funding over Turkey deal

© Murad Sezer
The medical aid charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) refuses to take funds from the European Union and member states in protest over a “shameful… response" to the plight of refugees, and the EU-Turkey deal, designed to curb the flow of migrants.

To tackle the worst refugee crisis since World War II, the EU signed a migrant deal with Ankara in March, according to which Turkey would take back refugees seeking asylum in the EU in exchange for a multibillion-euro aid package, as well as unprecedented political concessions, including the visa-free regime for Turkish citizens.

MSF International Secretary-General Jerome Oberreit said on Friday that the EU-Turkey deal was wrong at core, and only helped “outsource" European obligations.

“Europe’s attempt to outsource migration control is having a domino effect, with closed borders stretching all the way back to Syria. People increasingly have nowhere to turn,” Oberreit said in a statement on the MSF website. “Will the situation in Azaz where 100,000 people are blocked between closed borders and front lines become the rule, rather than the deadly exception?

“The EU-Turkey deal sets a dangerous precedent for other countries hosting refugees, sending a message that caring for people forced from their homes is optional and that they can buy their way out of providing asylum," he said in the statement.

"This is jeopardizing the very concept of the refugee," he told Reuters, adding that "It's really important to see the real people instead of the political football that they have become."

"We're talking about Europe's refugee shame," Oberreit added.

The MSF chief told Reuters that the EU discussed similar deals with 16 other countries (including some of the major sources of refugees: Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan) "with the single goal of denying people their right to asylum."

"This would potentially mean locking people into war zones or places where they face persecution," he said.

The decision to reject funding from the EU states will cost MSF €37 million ($41.6 million). The charity will also lose 19 million euros from EU institutions.

On Tuesday the legal justification for the EU-Turkey refugee deal was challenged in the European Court of Justice by three asylum seekers. Their argument that Turkey is not a safe place for refugees has been backed by human rights groups.

Human rights groups have been up in arms over the agreement for months, with Amnesty International accusing Turkey of illegally forcing thousands of refugees to go back to war-torn Syria, including unaccompanied children.

In a statement in April, the watchdog highlighted the "fatal flaws in a refugee deal signed between Turkey and the European Union," with Amnesty's John Dalhuisen adding that the “inhumanity and scale of the returns is truly shocking.” 

MSF wrote on its website that three months into the EU-Turkey deal "people in need of protection are left counting its true human cost. On the Greek Islands, more than 8,000 people, including hundreds of unaccompanied minors, have been stranded as a direct consequence of the EU-Turkey deal."

Citing "dire conditions, in overcrowded camps" MSF said refugees “fear a forced return to Turkey yet are deprived of essential legal aid, their one defense against collective expulsion. The majority of these families, whom Europe has legislated out of sight, have fled conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan."

Europe is currently facing its worst refugee crisis since World War II. Last year alone some 1.8 million asylum-seekers entered the European Union fleeing war and poverty in Middle-Eastern countries, according to the data from the EU border agency Frontex.