The controversial EU-Turkey refugee deal—under which one Syrian refugee will be settled in Europe legally in return for every migrant taken back by Turkey from Greece—is set to go into effect Monday despite human rights warnings and ongoing protests.
Amnesty International declared Friday that it's an "open secret" in the region that Turkish authorities have been rounding up and expelling refugees to Syria on a "near-daily basis"—a practice the rights group vdenounced as both illegal and inhumane.
The large-scale returns of Syrian refugees, said Amnesty's director for Europe and Central Asia, highlight the "fatal flaws" in the recently approved EU-Turkey deal, described by the organization earlier this month as a "historic blow to human rights."
"It is a deal that can only be implemented with the hardest of hearts and a blithe disregard for international law," said John Dalhuisen on Friday.
"In their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have wilfully ignored the simplest of facts," he added. "Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day."
The claims are based on multiple testimonies of large-scale forcible deportations from the southern Turkish province of Hatay, collected over three days last week by Amnesty researchers.
"It seems highly likely that Turkey has returned several thousand refugees to Syria in the last seven to nine weeks," Dalhuisen said. "If the agreement proceeds as planned, there is a very real risk that some of those the EU sends back to Turkey will suffer the same fate."
Indeed, the UN Refugee Agency weighed in on Friday, also urging a halt to the deal "in light of continued serious gaps" in the system.
"Across Greece, which has been compelled to host people because of closed borders elsewhere in Europe, numerous aspects of the systems for receiving and dealing with people who may need international protection are still either not working or absent," said agency spokesperson Melissa Fleming at a press briefing in Geneva.
After detailing "deteriorating," "chaotic," and "dismal" conditions at Greek "hotspot" facilities, Fleming continued:
Without urgent further EU support, the limited capacity of the Greek asylum service to register and process asylum claims will create problems. Limited hours of registration, daily ceilings on registrations, a lack of access to the Skype system for registration set up by the Asylum Services, are at present adding to the anxiety.
In Turkey, UNHCR has requested access to people returned from Greece, to ensure people can benefit from effective international protection and to prevent risk of refoulement.
As the Guardian noted on Friday, "The success of the deal rests on both Greece's ability to process thousands of people in a short space of time, as well as Turkey's ability to prove itself as a safe country for refugees."
But, said Amnesty's Dalhuisen, from forcing women and children back to the war-torn country they're fleeing; to scaling back the registration of Syrian refugees in the southern border provinces; to implementing increasingly restrictive border policies, Turkey is "touting the creation of an undeliverable safe zone inside Syria."
"It is clear where this is all heading," he said, "having witnessed the creation of Fortress Europe, we are now seeing the copy-cat construction of Fortress Turkey."
Elsewhere, in a symbolic protest of this crackdown on human rights, the UK-based Global Justice Now on Friday lit up the white cliffs of Dover with the 16-foot-high words "Refugees Welcome."
"[T]his is not a crisis caused by migrants," Global Justice Now press officer Kevin Smith wrote in a blog post.
"It is a crisis caused by war, poverty, and inequality," he argued. "Rich countries, with the help of the highly profitable security industry, have tried their best to use cruel immigration controls, fences, walls, and even guns to force people to accept lives of violence and destitution. This is not the solution. No matter how high the walls of Fortress Europe become, the only way to solve this problem is to deal with its root causes."