EU and Turkey must stop playing politics with migrants, rights group says

UN Refugee Agency is ‘seriously underfunded’ as negative attitude towards illegal migrants persists in Turkey and EU

Fatima Ibrahim, left, is the sole breadwinner for a family of seven Syrian refugees in Kilis, Turkey. Josh Wood for The National
Powered by automated translation

The EU and Turkey’s poor handling of the continent’s refugee crisis shows that countries must stop politicising migrants and portraying them as a security threat, a new report says.

A report by The Bussola Institute released on Thursday said some states were generous and vocal about their financial support for refugees, but the UN High Commission for Refugees urgently needed more assistance.

“With the number of people fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution increasing, action needs to be taken,” said Dr Richard Burchill, of the institute in Brussels.

"Instead, states are proving more and more reluctant to support refugees. In terms of rhetoric, states are vocal in their support for refugees and some are even generous in their fi­nancial support.

“But this support is primarily focused on ensuring that refugees do not enter their borders.

"While a great deal of work is being done with the financial support received by the UNHCR it remains a seriously underfunded institution, with a funding gap of $4.35 billion [Dh15.98bn] in 2019.”

This funding gap is not the only difficulty in finding sustainable solutions for refugees.

The report said negative attitudes to refugees remains a serious obstacle to humanitarian assistance.

“The current situation between the EU and Turkey demonstrates the need for attitudes to change," it said.

"The New York Declaration and GCR call for humanitarian approaches to refugees, but the EU and Turkey are failing to support such approaches as refugees remain contingent on national political interests."

The report said that coronavirus travel restrictions have resulted in outsiders, including migrants, being viewed as threats or a further strain on limited resources.

It said the pandemic put refugees in “precarious situations” in overcrowded camps where resources can be scant.

Strains on national budgets and limits on social spending will affect migrants more acutely than most, the institute said.

“And with more and more divisive attitudes and feelings in society, acceptance and support for refugees and asylum seekers will remain limited,” it said.

“States need to refocus practical measures regarding refugees, away from the politicisation and securitisation of individuals fleeing persecution.

"The EU-Turkey situation shows that neither approach is bene­ficial for vulnerable individuals.”

epa08494211 Syrian refugee children enjoy the warm weather at the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey 18 June 2020. World Refugee Day is internationally observed on 20 June to raise awareness of the situation of refugees around the world.  EPA/ERDEM SAHIN
Syrian refugee children enjoy the warm weather at the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey 18 June 2020.  EPA

In February, thousands of migrants began arriving at Turkey’s border with Greece and Bulgaria after Ankara suddenly said it would no longer block their passage to Europe.

Turkey hosts four million refugees, most of whom are Syrian.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been accused of politicising refugees by threatening to let them travel into the EU, and of its perceived inaction in ending the Syrian war.

But others believe Turkey’s aim is to gain more concessions from Brussels.

The EU warned Mr Erdogan that it expected Ankara to abide by a €6bn (Dh24.69bn/$6.72bn) deal to stem illegal migration to its member states, but Ankara is demanding more financial assistance from the bloc.

Greece, Italy and Turkey, countries that were already hosting large numbers of migrants, experienced a backlash after 2015 as they struggled to deal with the mass arrivals.

The migration emergency eased in 2016 when the EU struck the deal with Turkey.

The more than one million migrants who headed for Europe in 2015 were mostly Syrians fleeing the civil war.