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The refugee crisis is not as Eurocentric as before, but it still exists

Syrian children walk in the mud after a heavy rain fell at a refugee camp in Syria on 6 February 2016 [Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images]
Syrian children walk in the mud after heavy rain fell at a refugee camp in Syria on 6 February 2016 [Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images]

It has been three years since the European Union signed the "one in, one out" deal with Turkey on 18 March, 2016. The ongoing humanitarian crisis on the Greek Islands shows that the refugee issue has not been solved; instead, it is simply being contained on the periphery of Europe so that it is not as Eurocentric as before and does not hit the headlines.

The deal was a reaction to the arrival of more than a million refugees in Europe during the summer of 2015. It was based on the exchange of one "irregular Syrian" on the Greek Islands in return for a Syrian asylum seeker based in Turkey. The main purpose of the deal was to end irregular crossings to Europe and encourage refugees to apply for asylum in Turkey. Hence, it was said by the European Commission that priority for granting asylum would be given to those migrants "who have not previously entered or tried to enter the EU irregularly."

The deal indeed reduced the number of people attempting to cross the Aegean Sea and the number of deaths on this route fell dramatically. However, time has shown that the refugee crisis has not been solved by this agreement; instead, it is exacerbated by holding the refugees out of sight.

READ: Remembering the start of the Syrian Revolution

There are many problems with the deal. One of the most debated issues, for example, was the right of non-refoulement, a principle that is defined as "the cornerstone of international refugee protection" by the UNHCR, which bans the deportation of asylum seekers. This problem, like many others, is connected to the fact that refugees are not given any right to make decisions affecting their own lives.

The EU-Turkey deal, like many others that the EU signed with third-parties, obliges refugees to live with just their "bare-life" over any concern about how that life is lived. The term was coined by Italian Philosopher Giorgio Agamben in reference to people who have been barred from social and political participation in society and have nothing but life itself. Migrants in the Greek Islands who are prevented from travelling to the European mainland while they are awaiting their removal illustrate this concept.

Turkey has been one of the main country which has been welcoming Syrian refugees - Cartoon [MiddleEastMonitor]

Turkey has been one of the main country which has been welcoming Syrian refugees –
Cartoon [MiddleEastMonitor]

Syrian refugees who have fled from the dire conditions in their homeland, for example, have risked their lives to seek asylum in Europe, but they have been stuck in the same holding camp for years. Whether waiting for repatriation to Turkey or resettlement somewhere in Europe, they are trapped in the camp or detention centre with poor living conditions and a lack of access to legal services and information about their cases. They are banned from travelling and live in a small tent with 1.5 litres of water a day and low quality food. They have no privacy in the overcrowded camps. They can neither decide their destination nor plan for the future. The stories of the refugee families in the Greek Islands reflect this problem strongly: uncertainty, exhaustion and frustration in the camps; the ultimate despair.

While some migrants have been deported without access to the asylum process and no right of appeal, there are still 20,000 refugees trapped on the Greek Islands and waiting for whatever is decided by the authorities. Meanwhile, the parties to this agreement are now vocal about how it is not working. According to the most recent figures, since April 2016 only 1,825 people have been deported to Turkey under the framework of the EU-Turkey deal. The deportation process takes so long that even the so-called "bogus asylum seekers" and migrants who are willing to return are not able to.

READ: Turkey hosting 5m refugees, 3.5m from Syria

Despite the failure of the deal, similar agreements continue to be put together for the sake of EU sovereignty and border security. The EU-Turkey deal is representative of a greater problem called the EU's "Agenda on Migration", which prioritises the blocking of the refugees' entry points and deters people from making the journey to Europe, instead of providing an actual solution.

If the containment policies apparently fail to protect refugees and do not provide any permanent solution, then why does the EU continue with this kind of agreement? These deals are only restricting refugees' movement, leaving them uncertain about their future by providing limited information about the legal procedure, and conditioning them to poor living standards.

While the EU claims that there is no longer a "European refugee crisis", the reality is that the crisis is in storage on Europe's peripheries and is being ignored. If the EU has a genuine intention to end the crisis, it needs to stop prioritising political gains and start considering the refugees and their terrible plight.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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