Thursday

13th May 2021

EU leaders' praise of Turkey triggers NGO anger

  • "Turkey is the best example in the entire world of how to treat refugees," Tusk said after visiting a refugee camp in Gaziantep (Photo: The European Union.)

”Turkey is the best example in the entire world of how to treat refugees”, European Council president Donald Tusk claimed on Saturday (23 April), drawing criticism from human rights organisations.

He spoke at a press conference in Gaziantep, southern Turkey, where he travelled together with German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans.

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”Nobody has the right to lecture Turkey on what you should do. I am very proud you are my partner. I am absolutely sure we will succeed. We have no other way”, Tusk said.

His statement drew applause from the conference.

During their trip, the three EU leaders visited a refugee camp in Nizip and took part in the opening of a child protection centre in Gaziantep, marking the country’s National Sovereignty and Children's Day.

They also met with the Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and discussed the implementation of a recent deal on how to stop irregular migration in the Aegean sea.

Safe zones and EU payments

Following the visit, Angela Merkel said that Syrian refugees were welcome in Turkey. She lauded Ankara for issuing work permits to Syrian refugees and endorsed the Turkish idea of sheltering refugees on the Syrian side of the border, in so called safe zones.

"I have always in my talks with the prime minister [Ahmet Davutoglu] pleaded in favour of creating so-called safe zones, where we can provide assurances and security guarantees. That has to be of the upmost and immediate importance”, she told journalists.

Frans Timmermans reassured Davutoglu that the EU would honour its financial commitments to Turkey.

"By the end of July, I think we can reach a level of €1 billion of projects committed to ensure a better future for Syrians in Turkey.”

Visas

Prime minister Davutoglu said Turkey cannot be reproached on the issue of refugees.

”We have opened our arms to receive our brothers and sisters," Davutoglu said.

The Turkish PM warned Europe again that if it does not allow visa-free travel for Turkish citizens by the summer, Ankara would stop taking back migrants.

"If that were to happen then the readmission agreement will also not enter into force," Davutoglu warned. "Turkey always fulfilled its promises", he added. "Visa liberalisation was a promise to the Turkish people."

The European Commission will present its report evaluating Turkey's efforts to meet the benchmarks for visa-free travel on 4 May.

NGOs critical

The EU-Turkey meeting stirred anger among human rights watchdogs.

Amnesty International urged EU leaders not to close their eyes to human rights abuses in Turkey. The NGO said it has gathered testimonies from people, including pregnant women and children, who were sent back to Syria. Such so called refoulement is forbidden by international law.

“There is no photo-op that can obscure the deep flaws in the EU-Turkey deal. What Angela Merkel really needs to bring back from Turkey are not smiling photos but cast-iron guarantees that the Turkish authorities will stop sending refugees back to their countries of origin and start implementing its asylum laws effectively,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia in a press statement.

Marta Szczepanik from the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, who recently travelled to southern Turkey, called the EU statements ”hypocritical”.

”The refugee camps at the Syrian border that I had a chance to visit are indeed well-managed and clean. But only 10 percent of 2.7 million registered Syrian refugees in Turkey live in those camps. The rest of population is scattered around the country,” Szczepanik told this website.

"They go through hardship because of a very limited access to the labour market. Less than ten percent of Syrian refugees are entitled to apply for a work permit and most employers refuse to do this because they prefer to hire Syrians 'under the table’.”

Tony Bunyan, the director of British NGO Statewatch, asked why the EU isn’t the best example in the world of how to treat refugees.

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