Daily Archives: May 3, 2016

On the Border

I do not like the refugee and migrant deal between Europe and Turkey, it leaves a bad taste, and I have many worries.

It is not the candy being offered to Turkey that worries me, money is no big deal, visa free travel is no big deal.  Visa free is pretty much a paper exercise, or more accurately a paper free exercise.  All it means is that Turks will be able to travel to most of Europe without getting a visa, Turks will still be limited to all the general requirements.  Visa free travel does not give access to the EU job market or to benefits or anything else, all it means is Turks will be able to travel to most of Europe and stay for up to 90 days in a given 180 day period without getting a visa, and most if not all EU citizens will be able to travel to Turkey without visa and under the same conditions.

I’m not too fussed that some of the conditions might get watered down a bit although I do think it sends the wrong message.  Being honest here there are plenty of other countries with far more questionable records of human rights and freedoms many of which unlike Turkey have not signed up to the ECHR and already have visa free travel to the EU.  So at worst it is an opportunity lost and the wrong message, but Turkey will need to address issues at some point in the future if Turkey continues to aspire to EU membership.

And the money is no big deal, Europe would be spending that money supporting people no matter what, it would just get spent in Greece or Germany on the same people fleeing terror, bombs, and the rest.  Yes it is a lot of money, but the West has seriously contributed to the chaos and instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen.  Morally it is the right thing to do.

I worry that a maritime national border can be so porous.  Let’s face it, Cameron, May and the rest of that shower would be apoplectic if the maritime border of France was so porous.  But well, it is a long coastline, Turkey is creaking under the strain of somewhere over 3 million Syrian refugees, and Greece hardly has the money or resources to maintain a costly maritime border.

I worry that so much effort is happening to stop refugees and migrants reaching Europe.  The reality is there are over 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, approaching 2 million in Lebanon, over 3 million in Turkey.  By comparison the number in Greece, Germany, Sweden, elsewhere is minute.  The rhetoric that many more will come if allowed to, if the borders remain open, simply does not match the evidence that the vast majority are for whatever reason staying close to Syria.

I worry about the nasty lurch to the right that has happened across much of the globe and is so evident in the UK and much of Europe, and how this is in part driving the deal.  I guess the reality of the global banking crisis, the loss of income, the loss of jobs, loss of confidence, the misguided ethos of austerity, along with events in Syria, Iraq, Libya, elsewhere and people fleeing war and terror has created a perfect storm for nastier aspects of right wing nationalism.

I worry that the refugee and migrant route will change.  That the route will shift to Libya, and the far more dangerous crossing to Italy.  I suspect it will happen, and it is not as if Europe can then do a deal with Libya given the West left that country with no government and as pretty much a failed state.

What I really dislike is the forced repatriation.  Yes I know that any Syrian who is in Greece or reaches Greece will be allowed to remain if they claim refugee status.  No Syrian who claims refugee status will be sent back anywhere.  But I do not like the idea of people being forced onto boats and across a national border, for me it is too close to events from our not too distant past.

If there is one good thing, and it is a very good thing, it is this.  The bodies of men, women, children and infants are no longer being washed up on the shore.  At least now, Turkey is being more proactive, Greece is getting the necessary help, steps have been taken to prevent deaths at sea.

On our recent trip we saw ships patrolling at sea, and these, German Coast Guard and Swedish Search and Rescue ships moored at Vathy, Samos.  Unlike last year we saw no boats trying to make the crossing and other than a small camp towards the Greek border with Macedonia, very few refugees and migrants anywhere else.  A massive difference from what we saw on our travels last year.

Despite all my worries, and the bad taste the deal leaves, it remains my hope that those terrible days of bodies being washed up on the shore will never return.