The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced that it will no longer accept funds from the European Union and its member states, in opposition to their damaging migration deterrence policies and intensifying attempts to push people and their suffering away from European shores. This decision will take effect immediately and will apply to MSF’s projects worldwide.
Three months into an agreement struck between the EU and Turkey, which European governments are claiming as a success, people in need of protection are paying the true cost of the deal. On the Greek islands, more than 8,000 people, including hundreds of unaccompanied minors, have been stranded as a direct consequence of the EU-Turkey deal. They have been living in dire conditions in overcrowded camps, sometimes for months. While they fear a forced return to Turkey, they are deprived of essential legal aid, their one defense against collective expulsion. The majority of these families, whom Europe has legislated out of sight, have fled conflict in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
“For months MSF has spoken out about a shameful European response focused on deterrence rather than on providing people with the assistance and protection they need,” said Jerome Oberreit, MSF international secretary general. “The EU-Turkey deal goes one step further, placing the very concept of ‘refugee’ and the protection it offers in danger.”
Last week the European Commission unveiled a new proposal to replicate the EU-Turkey logic across more than 16 countries in Africa and the Middle East. These deals would impose trade and development aid cuts on countries that do not stem migration to Europe or facilitate forcible returns, and reward those that do. Among these potential partners are Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, and Afghanistan, four of the top 10 refugee generating countries, according to the United Nations.
“Is Europe’s only offer to refugees that they stay in countries they are desperate to flee? Once again, Europe’s main focus is not on how well people will be protected, but on how efficiently they are kept away,” said Oberreit.
The EU-Turkey deal sets a dangerous precedent for other countries hosting refugees, sending a message that caring for people forced from their homes is optional and that they can purchase their way out of providing asylum. Last month, the Kenyan government cited European migration policy to justify its decision to close the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab, and send its residents back to Somalia. Likewise, the deal does nothing to encourage countries surrounding Syria, already hosting millions of refugees, to open their borders to those in need.
“Europe’s attempt to outsource migration control is having a domino effect, with closed borders stretching all the way back to Syria,” said Oberreit. “People increasingly have nowhere to turn. Will the situation in Azaz, Syria, where 100,000 people are blocked between closed borders and front lines, become the rule, rather than the deadly exception?”
The EU-Turkey deal’s financial package includes one billion euros in humanitarian aid. While there are undoubtedly needs in Turkey, which currently hosts close to three million Syrian refugees, this aid has been negotiated as a reward for border control promises, rather than being based solely on needs. This instrumentalization of humanitarian aid is unacceptable, MSF said.
“Deterrence policies sold to the public as humanitarian solutions have only exacerbated the suffering of people in need,” said Oberreit. “There is nothing remotely humanitarian about these policies, which cannot become the norm and must be challenged. MSF will not receive funding from institutions and governments whose policies do so much harm. We are calling on European governments to shift priorities. Rather than maximize the number of people they can push back, they must maximize the number they welcome and protect.”