EU-Turkey refugee deal has increased suffering - aid groups

The refugee deal European states made with Turkey three years ago to halt the flow of hundreds of thousands of immigrants has delivered mixed results, Fox News reported on Wednesday.

Regarding its main objective, the deal, which took effect on March 20, 2016, has been a great success. More than 1.2 million people registered for asylum in European Union member states in 2016, at the height of the refugee crisis. That number fell by half to 654,000 in 2017 and even fewer — just over 580,000 — in 2018, according to the EU's statistics office Eurostat.

In the Aegean Sea, a crossing largely under Turkey’s control, irregular migration fell 96 percent, from 856,000 crossings in 2015 to just over 32,000 last year, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees.

But the reduction has come at a cost. A key provision of the deal was that immigrants arriving on Greek islands would be returned to Turkey unless they applied for and received asylum in Greece. But it hasn’t work out this way.

“Instead of waiting to apply for asylum in their preferred European country, new arrivals applied as soon as they arrived on the islands, which delayed deportations and created a massive backlog in Greece's asylum system,” said Fox News.

As a result, thousands have been languishing in crammed camps, amid poor living and security conditions. As of Monday night, a total of 14,742 people were being held on Greek islands, most of them on Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos, according to Fox.

On the eve of the deal’s third anniversary, 25 human rights, medical aid and volunteer groups signed an open letter calling on European leaders “to take immediate and sustained action to end the unfair and unnecessary containment policy,” according to Fox.

"Greece has become a dumping ground for the men, women and children that the European Union has failed to protect," Emmanuel Goue of the Doctors Without Borders medical aid group said in a statement.

"What was once touted as a 'refugee emergency' has given way to inexcusable levels of human suffering across the Greek islands and on mainland Greece," Goue added. "The EU and Greek authorities continue to rob vulnerable people of their dignity and health, seemingly in an effort to deter others from coming. This policy is cruel, inhumane and cynical, and it needs to end."

With the Aegean route shut down, Spain has become the new favoured entry point, with more than 57,000 unauthorised arrivals by sea in 2018. And with a longer sea journey across the Mediterranean, more people are dying.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, around 2,300 people died crossing the Mediterranean Sea last year, almost double the 2017 total.