One year ago, the ‘Balkan route’ – by which refugees, asylum seekers and migrants travelled from Greece to northern Europe – was closed. This route had constituted the only hope for thousands of people seeking protection in Europe. In the wake of this, on 18 March 2016 the European Union (EU) and Turkey issued the EU-Turkey statement, commonly referred to as the EU-Turkey deal. This deal aimed at stemming arrivals of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to Europe, and allegedly offered “migrants an alternative to putting their lives at risk”. Nine months later, the deal was reinforced with a joint action plan, a two-page document setting out further action to be taken.
These two interlinked events – the closure of the Balkan route and the EU-Turkey deal – represented a new paradigm in the EU’s approach to mixed migration flows. In reaction to the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal, MSF decided to no longer accept funds from the EU and its member states, in opposition to their damaging deterrence policies and their continued attempts to push people and their suffering away from European shores.
One year into the deal’s implementation, European leaders have been heralding its “positive results”, its “continued trend of progress” and its “steady delivery of results”, whilst acknowledging some “challenges” along the way. Most recently, EU member states such as Germany and Malta have called for the EU-Turkey deal to be replicated elsewhere.
What EU officials fail to mention is the devastating human consequences of this strategy on the lives and health of the thousands of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants trapped on the Greek islands and in the Balkans, particularly in Greece and Serbia, where they are living in limbo. What they fail to acknowledge is that, whether fully implemented or not, the EU-Turkey deal follows the logic of treating people as if they were commodities, with disastrous consequences for the people affected. And what is clear is that, despite evidence of the deadly consequences of their containment policy, European leaders have decided to put the survival of the EU-Turkey deal ahead of asylum seekers’ safety and protection.
As a medical humanitarian organisation providing care to these people, our staff have treated the physical and mental wounds that these measures have inflicted on people who came to Europe in search of protection from violence, conflict and extreme hardship. This report challenges Europe’s “alternative facts” on the EU-Turkey deal and seeks to ensure that the EU acknowledges its true impact on people’s lives and health in Greece and beyond, and does not go on to replicate such a deal elsewhere.