EU-Turkey refugee plan paves way for misery and terror

European leaders are bending human rights legislation to breaking point over migrant crisis

Aerial views of a migrant camp on the Greece-Macedonia border, filmed with a drone, reveals the difficult conditions its inhabitants face and how the camp continues to spread. Video: Reuters


Chaos and death in Idomeni, refugees fleeing war, civil war, terrorism and genocidal sectarianism are desperately trying to make it to Europe before we Europeans, denizens of one of the globe’s richest and most powerful entities, may slam the door shut in their face. European leaders are bending Europe’s human rights legislation to breaking point and beseeching the increasingly Putinesque Turkish leadership to turn their country into Europe’s southeastern bulwark, a place of despair rather than hope for millions of uprooted, destitute human beings from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Africa.

The images of suffering, displacement and death on the borders of Europe and indeed within the boundaries of the European Union itself retain their quality of horror but have lost their edge, surreptitiously blurring into a bleak new kind of European normality.

Civilisational choice

Angela Merkel

Abandoning the role of agent provocateur for a humane openness to refugees and their need to rebuild their lives, she has added up the preferences of the EU’s national leaders and found that, among the 28, she stood almost alone in defining the great refugee drama of our time as a humanitarian imperative first and a political, social and economic quandary second.

The deal then worked out under her guidance between the EU and Turkey throws up too many legal and practical issues to serve as the unshakable foundation of the EU’s future policy on the right to asylum and refuge. But the political and societal European dynamics from which it has arisen are by now crystal clear.

Culture of resentment

France is politically, intellectually and ethically paralysed by the no longer wholly improbable prospect of its far-right leader Marine Le Pen propelled into the frozen grandeur of the Elysée Palace on a wave of popular discontent during the presidential elections next year.

The UK, whose inward-looking political system is almost equally unsettled by the looming shock of the referendum on Brexit, has been similarly deaf to the German yearning for a grand European gesture of transformative generosity. Eastern Europeans, too many of whom seem determined to macerate in a culture of resentful resistance against the mutation of their universe into a multifaith multiethnic society, round off the wall of resistance against opening Europe up rather than shutting it down.

So now, acting with Turkey, our EU leaders have moved to overcome their acrimonious and debilitating dissent about what to do with the new influx from human beings fleeing Asia for Europe to seek safety, hope and a future for themselves and their children.

The decision, affirmed in Brussels yesterday and reached through painful months of discord as the lowest common denominator of the 28, is to park the millions displaced now and the millions who might yet be made homeless in camps, shantytowns and countries beyond Europe’s borders.

This is regardless of what consequence the huge influx of new population imposed on them has for the fabric of these societies or for the refugees themselves. One figure says it all: the European offer to relocate 72,000 Syrians to the 28 member states of the union amounts to 0.026 per cent of the 2.7 million Syrians now in Turkey.

It is too early to say with full certainty whether the deal the EU has now agreed with Turkey will mark the irrevocable abandonment of a tradition of asylum stretching back millenniums into the early days of European civilisation.

Back then, ancient Greece – that country again – provided political asylum to refugees from neighbouring polities and sanctuary in its places of worship. It may be that the remaining serious legal and practical difficulties of the EU’s new attempt to reduce the numbers of migrants trying to make it to Europe mean that the frantic search for a different way to grant and or withhold the right to refuge must continue.

But the collective preference of the national leaders in charge of the destiny of our continent is clear: let others bear the burden and we’ll send a cheque to pay for keeping the wave of human misery out.

No matter that it was the joint decision of the dominant western powers that destroyed our neighbouring region’s precarious balance through the criminally underprepared invasion and recklessly bungled occupation of Iraq, the all-engulfing catalyst for the humanitarian tragedy and disaster that has befallen the cradle of our civilisation, culture and faiths.

Shantytowns and squalor

We know from experience what it must be. We are sowing the seeds for generations of dispossessed, disenfranchised and desperate neighbours, not a few of whose young men and women will see terrorism as a just retribution and the only way to get a hearing for their forgotten ills.

For any European endowed with a modicum of historical awareness and ethical conscience, it will then be difficult to put the blame entirely on them.

Thomas Klau is a trustee and co-founder of Asylos, a pan-European volunteer network assisting lawyers representing refugees. He is also a policy analyst and a director of consultancy at K-Feld & Co

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