HRW cites risks in Turkey-EU agreement

The EU has promised to lift visa requirements for travel to the EU for Turkish citizens and to reinvigorate talks on accession in return for halting the flow of refugees to Europe. The EU has also pledged some 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) over the next year or two to improve the lives of the estimated 2.3 million Syrians currently living in Turkey, so that they are less likely to board boats for nearby Greek islands and potentially proceeding on to Europe.

Benjamin Ward, the deputy director of HRW, a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization with bureaus around the world, said in an article on the organization’s website, “The revived EU membership talks could create a much-needed opportunity for Europe’s officials to press Turkey on its rights record.”

He continued, “But absence of a reference to human rights in the EU-Turkey summit joint statement yesterday and recent remarks from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that the EU should not ‘harp’ on Turkey’s rights record do not bode well.”

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu flew to Brussels on Sunday to meet with the 28 leaders of the EU bloc, which needs Turkey’s cooperation to stem the flow of Syrian and Iraqi immigrants that is causing great difficulty after the arrival nearly a million refugees this year.

“Under the deal, Turkey will receive 3 billion euros in much-needed funds to assist Syrian refugees, as well as visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in most EU countries,” Ward wrote, adding that discussion of Turkey’s EU membership may be revived.

Ward claims it is unclear how preventing migration to the EU can be achieved “without impeding access to asylum for the 84 percent of people [currently without asylum status] from refugee-producing countries who have reached EU shores this year.”

He adds, “Asylum seekers fleeing most countries today cannot obtain effective refugee protection in Turkey. Syrians are given only temporary protection, and Afghans and Iraqis don’t receive even that.”

Ward claims that with its “reputation for using excessive force” the Turkish police will resort to using “abusive tactics” to prevent people from reaching its EU neighbors Greece and Bulgaria.

He adds that most Syrians, Iraqis and others who have succeed in reaching the EU “are unlikely to be returned to Turkey — even with the new readmission agreement in place.”

In December 2013 Turkey and the EU agreed on a readmission process that would require the repatriation of third-country nationals who illegally migrated to Europe via Turkey back to Turkey in return for the initiation of a visa liberalization dialogue.