Conditions for refugees seeking asylum in Europe descended to new depths this week, as residents of a Greek refugee camp launched a hunger strike to protest inhumane living conditions, the United Nations warned Greece to stop imprisoning refugee children in police cells, and deported Syrian refugees said they were being illegally detained in Turkey and stripped of their rights.
"I'm forcing my children to eat because I don't have any money to buy anything, but they refuse because there are bugs in it."
—a Syrian mother deported and detained in TurkeyIndeed, Syrians recently deported to Turkey from Greece under the terms of the controversial EU/Turkey deal told the Guardian on Monday that they were "detained in a remote camp for the past three weeks with no access to lawyers," meaning they have been unable to apply for asylum in Europe.
Such reports "undermine the legitimacy" of the deal, the Guardian notes, as the deal is predicated on Turkey being a "safe third country" to which asylum seekers may be sent under international law.
"The returnees have warned that those following in their wake face arbitrary detention, an inscrutable asylum process, and substandard living conditions," the newspaper wrote.
"You can't imagine how bad a situation we are in right now," said one Syrian mother detained with her children in Turkey to the Guardian. "My children and I are suffering, the food is not edible. I'm forcing my children to eat because I don't have any money to buy anything, but they refuse because there are bugs in it."
"One of the hundreds of other Syrian refugees also detained at [the same detention center] said that he had been held since 10 February after being seized from his home," the Guardian reported. "He said he was still unsure of why he was detained, or when he would be released, and doubted any inmate would be freed soon."
Unaccompanied minors are also being detained without cause or explanation in Greece, according to the United Nations.
"The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crepeau, said he had met unaccompanied children held in police stations for more than two weeks without access to the outdoors, and 'traumatized and distressed' by the experience," reported Reuters.
An "estimated 2,000 unaccompanied children who traveled alone to Europe or lost their families on the way are stranded in Greece," according to the charity Save the Children.
Children "are put in ... protective custody and the only place there is space [for them] is the cell in police stations and that's where we find them quite often," Crepeau said. "Spending 16 days [in a police cell] is way too long."
Meanwhile, in the Schisto refugee camp in Greece, residents have entered the second day of a mass hunger strike.
"No food, no water, please open the border," reads an appeal written on a piece of cardboard.
"Those certain individuals who [have] money, they cross all borders," reads the refugees' statement to EU and UN officials, which was written out on a sheet and hung from a windowsill, yet "we are all humans." The statement describes camp conditions as "like prison" and says that "all women, children, and men are sick."
"Please free us," the refugees plead.
"This is not the first hunger strike to have taken place in refugee camps in Greece this year," reports leftist Greek magazine AnalyzeGreece. "Just last week, refugees in Elliniko went on hunger strike, complaining about the detention conditions, while hunger strikes have also taken place in Eidomeni (March 2016) and in the VIAL detention camp in Chios."
Humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) lays the blame for the ever-worsening situation on the EU/Turkey deal, in an excoriating condemnation published Monday in the Huffington Post.
MSF describes the frightening ramifications of the deal's treatment of human beings as bartering chips:
While the concept of outsourcing migration management is sadly not new, this is the most organized and collective attempt so far to pursue the cruel logic of pushing people back instead of taking them in. Europe is sending a troubling signal to the rest of the world: countries can buy their way out of providing asylum.
If replicated by many nations worldwide, the concept of refugee will cease to exist. People will be trapped in war zones unable to flee for their lives, with no choice but to stay and die. The recent bombing of a camp hosting displaced people near Idlib that killed at least 28 people shows that the concept of “safe spaces” in Syria is not viable.
Through this deal, EU leaders have made a choice that should raise serious questions for the citizens of affluent Europe. In 2016 who still counts as human? Whose lives matter? What happened to empathy? And where has solidarity gone when faced with the anguish and despair of those whose lives have been shattered?
The organization writes that it is ambivalent about continuing to provide humanitarian aid to refugees in Europe under such conditions.
"Unsatisfied with deterrence measures like their layers of razor wire, their sniffer dogs and their construction of ever higher walls, European leaders have resorted to now abusing humanitarian and development aid as a tool for border control," MSF writes.
"Europe is proffering billions of euros to implement this deal, hanging a dilemma over the heads of the humanitarian community," says the group. "Should aid agencies provide desperately needed aid in service of an anti-humanitarian policy that has the ultimate goal of keeping people away from European soil?"
In an open letter released Thursday, MSF appealed to Europe to recall the world's last refugee crisis, when it was Europeans who were the ones sent scattered around the world seeking refuge from war: "Is World War II so long ago that you no longer recall the basic human need to flee from violence and persecution when left with no other choice?"