EU/Turkey: Migrants are not goods one can barter

Paris, Brussels – FIDH is appalled by the cynical ‘migrant swap’ announced by EU Heads of State and Government and the Turkish Prime Minister on March 7. FIDH calls on the EU and its member States to stop trying to push migrants away at all costs and to create instead legal and safe channels including through increasing their unconditional resettlement capacities.

On 7 March, the Turkish Prime Minister, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission presented the key features of a future EU-Turkey agreement. With the help of NATO, the EU will ‘return all new irregular migrants’ crossing the Aegean Sea to Turkey. Given that migrants reaching Europe are mostly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis in need of international protection, FIDH is worried that these people will not have access to a fair and effective asylum process. Collective push backs without assessment of individual needs for protection violate international law and the principle of non-refoulement.

According to the plan, the EU would resettle a Syrian from Turkey for every Syrian returned to Turkey.

‘The announced ‘migrant swap’ shows once again the EU complete lack of consideration for migrants’ dignity and rights. Do we have to remind the EU and Turkish leaders that they are not bartering goods but dealing with human beings, some of them in urgent need of protection? The mere idea that the EU could condition resettlement of Syrians on Turkish willingness to readmit other Syrians is repulsive.’

Karim Lahidji, FIDH president


According to EU Heads of State and Government, for this plan to be ‘legal’, Europe must grant a ‘safe country’ status to Turkey. The very concept of a ‘safe country’ does not make sense under international law, as the need for international protection always needs to be assessed based on the individual situation of an asylum seeker.

‘Under no circumstances can Turkey be considered a ‘safe country’ for migrants. The EU’s decision to turn a blind eye to the deteriorating human rights situation and the lack of an adequate asylum system does not mean it is a safe country. Refugees may be at risk of deportation, in violation of the principle of non-refoulement. This decision only sadly shows that in order to outsource its responsibilities, the EU is caving in to Turkish blackmail using migrants as bargaining chips.’’

Geneviève Jacques, FIDH chargée de mission on migrants' rights


According to the President of the European Council, the ‘days of irregular migration to Europe are over’.

‘Imagining that closing the Western Balkan routes without offering safe alternatives will deter migrants from reaching Europe is wishful thinking at best. It will only push migrants to take more dangerous routes and lead to more human rights violations and deaths. The Turkish Prime Minister and the EU Heads of State and Government agreed that ‘bold’ moves were needed but this plan is not bold. It carries on with the same short-sighted logic focused on security and EU outsourcing of responsibility. It is highly time for the EU to switch to a human-rights based approach to migration by offering safe and legal channels into Europe and enhancing its capacity to unconditionally accept migrants.’’

Dan Van Raemdonck, FIDH Secretary General


The final EU-Turkey plan will be agreed upon at the European Council scheduled on March 17-18.

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