One year has passed since the EU-Turkey Agreement was implemented. The numbers of refugees seeking help in Europe has been significantly reduced and since last march, the average monthly arrivals have been “only” 2450.
(Trude Jacobsen in Klassekampen 2017.3.20)
However, has the enormous sums of money the EU has paid Turkey to keep people away from Europe led to better conditions for the approximately 2.9 million Syrian refugees in Turkey?
Hardly! Had conditions there been acceptable, people had not chosen to expose themselves and their children for the dangers of crossing the ocean. Those who now arrive often tells about 10-15 attempts before they finally succeed. It says a lot about what they are fleeing from!
The 60,000 who have managed to reach Greece live under inhuman conditions. The winter has led to several deaths, and many have traumas that they do not have opportunities to address. On the island of Samos alone there were reported 12 suicide attempts in January.
I remember well the mood in the camps in Greece in the days before 20th of March last year.
Happiness in the eyes of those who managed to get across before Fortress Europe was a reality, and disappointment in the same eyes as they realized that the process of getting them registered was so slow that they would not be registered before the critical date, 20th of March. Refugee camps on the islands were turned into prisons where both children and adults were locked up. Volunteers had to provide diapers for new-borns and soup to hungry refugees through holes in the barbed wire fences.
On the 4th of April 2016, the first group of 202 people were escorted back to Turkey. Some had not understood what they agreed to, and expressed great fear when they realized what was about to happen. Some were returned without being given a real opportunity to seek asylum in Greece. With a very limited number of officers on the islands, it soon became apparent that Greece did not have the capacity to handle all the asylum applications. After this first return the returns slowed down and from April 2016 to January 2017 838 people have been returned to Turkey.
We no longer hear much about the refugees’ struggle. They no longer reach Norway. Today, one year after the agreement was introduced, I stand in a refugee camp in Greece. I get questions from Syrians about why Europe does not want them. I can’t answer them. Having met so many people displaced by war and suffering, I feel sure that if it had been we who have fled empty-handed to their country, they would have taken care of us.