Syrian Refugees; A Political Pawn Between Governments

Syrian Refugees; A Political Pawn Between Governments
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 Thousands Stuck in Greece, Awaiting an Unknown Future



 Arabic version


On the 20th of last March, the agreement between Turkey and Europe, which restricts the flow of refugees from the Turkish coast into Greece, came into force. Preceding this there was a summit between the two parties, held in Brussels, which deliberated about several points, the most important of which included: The EU is to provide $3 billion in order to enhance the livelihoods of the Syrian refugees in Turkey. In addition, the EU state members shall pledge to transfer and resettle 160,000 of those refugees in the EU countries, along with reopening the discussion of Turkey’s accession to the EU, and accelerating the implementation of a policy that would no longer require visas for Turkish nationals wishing to travel to the EU.



On the other hand, Turkey proposed certain conditions to the agreement. The most important of which include that: The EU should increase the amount of the allocated financial aid for the Syrian refugees up to 6 billion Euros, applying the principle of "one-in, one-out” under which the EU is to receive one Syrian refugee who already resides legally in Turkey and, in return, Turkey is to receive one refugee who arrived to Greece illegally, providing that this same refugee must not be included in the project of Syrian refugee resettlement in Europe. Moreover, Turkey proposed lifting the condition of the visa imposed on Turkish nationals who want to visit the EU starting next June, along with reopening the discussion on Turkey’s accession to the EU in a serious manner, with executive steps.


In Izmir


The Turkish city of Izmir, one of the most prominent gathering places for Syrian refugees willing to cross to Greece, has witnessed a decrease in the number of Syrians arriving there for that purpose over the past few days. Yet, there are some secret groups still trying to cross despite the decrease.


Activist Muhammad Mwadamany told Suwar, "Usually 2,500 people cross in one day. But, once the agreement came into force, the number has dropped to 500, despite the intensive raids by the Turkish authorities very early in the morning which is the refugees’ favorite time to start".


On the Greek side, an unnamed source cooperating with the traffickers told the Magazine, "There is a tightened security movement over the Aegean sea, where the number of the EU ships roaming the sea on an hourly basis has increased, and there were several cases in which refugee boats were arrested in the middle of the sea and sent back to Turkey."


Hence, Syrians live in a state of anxiety and hesitation as a result of the new agreements and regulations; some of have decided simply to cancel their trips, and others intend to move on despite the security and legal risks.


Abu Muhammad, a man in his sixties from Aleppo, told Suwar, "On the second day of the agreement, my family and I went back to Adana. We did not dare to cross to Greece for fear of being forced back and just losing the $6,000 (the cost of the rubber boat - also known as balam in Arabic).”


Abu Muhammad demonstrated anxiety regarding the future after cancelling his effort to reach Europe by saying, "Our future in Turkey has become quite uncertain after our dream of going to Holland just collapsed. I was a history teacher in Aleppo, I can`t find a similar job in my field in Turkey. We only have this small amount of money that could barely last for the next four months. We can`t start any small project with this amount of money. Also, we can`t return to Syria because our house was destroyed. Everything now has become very vague; we have no idea how we are going to get by in the future.”


The Magazine also spoke to Sumyyah only a few hours before she crossed to Greece. She said, "I do not care about anything; I am going to make it to Greece, whatever the results are. Even if I apply for asylum in Greece I will be nearer to my brothers who made it to Germany. Life in Syria is quite impossible, I just can`t give up.”


Alternative Ways


The new procedures have not completely locked the door to Europe. Many Syrians are looking for certain ways to arrive by air to Algeria, then a land trip to Libya, and finally to Italy by sea.


Some organizations warn about the danger of this route because of the security situation in Libya, in addition to the long distances between the Libyan and Italian shores, which take up to 15 hours on the sea, whereas the trip between Turkey and Greece takes only one hour.



The same organizations also expect that such numbers are likely to decrease, especially given that getting to Italy requires an official passport along with other preconditions for travelling to Algeria, not to mention the very high cost of the trip, which most Syrians simply cannot afford.


In Greece


After the Macedonian authorities blocked their borders in the face of the Syrian refugees, the number of those refugees stuck in Greece has exceeded 100,000 people. Most of the displaced people are Syrians residing in different Greek cities, along with more than 15,000 displaced people in the area of Idomini on the Macedonian border. Those refugees try every day to enter Macedonia, but the Macedonian army prevents them by using tear gas and clubs to keep them from crossing the fence and moving on with their journey.


Those people live under very harsh circumstances in the primitive tents they bought, under heavy rains, in the cold of winter. Some local and European organizations provide food and medical aid for free. The refugees also have carried out strikes, demanding that borders must be open.


Huda, in her forties and residing in Athens, says, "We will go on demonstrating every day, ‘til our problems have been solved. We will keep demonstrating until all EU officials come here. According to their rules this is our right. We shall not respond to the requests of the Greek government to move us to camps in other cities. If we do so it means we will stay for a long time in Greece, or in those camps."



Activist Gifara Naby, who is stuck in a camp called "The Tents", told Suwar Magazine, "We all want to cross and move on with our journey. No one wishes to stay in Greece. In this cursed camp, no one is offering a comprehensive solution for us. Personally speaking, I wish to go to Germany, which is where my brothers are, though despair has found its way to me. Most probably, I am traveling to Athens to apply for resettlement in Europe with one of the organizations there."


Some Greek and European civil society organizations have already started enrolling the names of the refugees willing to be resettled in Europe as a preparatory step ahead of any European or political resolution in this regard. Refugees are living in a state of confusion due to the rumors, according to which the EU might resettle 64,000 of those applicants during a period not exceeding 60 days.


Still, Gifara confirms, "Nothing is formal so far. There is no list for the states wishing to do so. It is not up to the person, it is up to the policies and criteria of the EU member states."


International Law


According to international law, a ‘refugee’ is defined as a person that exists outside their country of origin due to their fear of being persecuted based on race, religion, nationalism, loyalty to certain social sect, or due to a certain political opinion. Refugees cannot or do not want to return to their home of origin for fear of being persecuted again.


The 1951 Refugee Convention is the key legal document that forms the basis of refugee rights. Signed by 139 state parties, it defines the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of states to protect them. Such principles are all guaranteed by Article 33, which states, "The Contracting States shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin".


The core principle is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a customary rule of international law, human rights law, the European Tribunal for Human Rights and Geneva Convention, and the protocols accompanying it.   


Within the same framework the Refugee Convention specifies very accurately the persons to be excluded from the international protection system for refugees. The first article, also known as the Exclusion article, emphasizes that perpetrators of violations against human rights and non-political dangerous crimes be excluded from the protection granted within the refugee system.


Within the same context, the European Tribunal for Human Rights states, "There is no exemption from EU law to human rights, even in the context of exceptional waves of migration."



Thus, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed their anxiety towards the draft convention between Turkey and the EU. In a press conference held in Geneva the Director of UNHCR, Fansoun Kousheteel, said, "The mass expelling of refugees is prohibited according to the EU Convention for Human Rights. Therefore, any agreement through which refugees are sent to a third country shall not be compatible with EU law and international law."





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