We, the undersigned European Red Cross National Societies, are gravely concerned by the humanitarian implications of the agreement reached by the EU and Turkey to stem migration to Europe. We fear its implementation risks undermining international and European refugee and human rights law, and stress that efforts by the EU and its Member States to address this crisis must comply fully with international obligations. This includes States' obligation to respect the right to seek asylum and ensure access to fair and efficient procedures for determination of refugee status. Most critical is the duty of non-refoulement, ensuring that people are not sent back to a country where their life or freedom would be at risk.
At stake is the desperate plight of tens of thousands of vulnerable people - men, women and children - risking their lives to seek safety. The EU-Turkey deal appears to lack empathy with the real desperation that forces so many people to embark on dangerous journeys. In our experience, deterrence policies and border closures expose the most vulnerable, especially women and children, to ever greater risks: family separation, sexual abuse, violence, and death. In this environment, smugglers and traffickers prosper.
We are witnessing the repercussions of unsolved conflicts and extreme poverty, and these require political solutions. While the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement will continue to provide assistance and protection to vulnerable migrants along migratory trails, EU Member States must jointly take up their responsibilities and find durable, humane solutions.
There is a dire humanitarian emergency in Greece. Despite EU efforts to stop migration flows into Greece, vulnerable migrants continue to arrive on the Greek islands every day. Nearly 50,000 people are thought to be stuck in Greece, many in appalling conditions. In the camps at Idomeni on the Greece-Macedonia border, where the Red Cross is providing assistance, people are sleeping in tents in freezing temperatures with precarious access to food, clean water, basic supplies and health care. This is a European crisis, requiring concrete and authentic acts of solidarity amongst states. Ensuring safe and dignified conditions for migrants in Greece and Turkey requires massive and concerted efforts by all EU Member States. Simply containing people does not solve the humanitarian crisis - it creates another.
We welcome EU Member States' commitment to enhance resettlement and relocation efforts, but these must be implemented and scaled up urgently. This must be done in conjunction with other initiatives, like humanitarian visas and family reunification - over 40% of Syrians seen by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement arrive in Greece intending to join family already in Europe. Such measures must not be at the expense of the rights of refugees from other countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea.
We are aware of the scale of the challenge this crisis poses for governments in the EU, but we are convinced that we can do better, together. We expect more from our governments and stand ready to provide support. We urge the EU to:
- Ensure asylum seekers at every point receive protection in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention and EU law. All asylum seekers must have access to legal aid and an individualised assessment of their claim.
- Create more opportunities for safe, legal routes into Europe, including through resettlement, humanitarian visas and family reunification. Under international and EU law, EU Member States have an obligation to facilitate family reunification.
- Set up dedicated search and rescue operations covering the Mediterranean Basin, and ensure that assistance is given to migrants in distress.
- Ensure humanitarian assistance and protection for all migrants, whatever their nationality or legal status, including at borders and in hotspots. Humanitarian actors, including National Societies of the Red Cross Red Crescent movement, must have effective access, without penalties, to people in need of their assistance.
This is an abridged version of a letter signed by representatives from 17 EU Red Cross national societies. A full list of signatories is below.
· Werner Kerschbaum, Secretary General, Austrian Red Cross
· Pierre Hublet, Secretary General, Belgian Red Cross – French Community
· Michael Adamson, CEO, British Red Cross
· Takis Neophytou, Director General,Cyprus Red Cross
· Anders Ladekarl, Secretary General, Danish Red Cross
· Riina Kabi, Secretary General, Estonian Red Cross
· Kristiina Kumpula, Secretary General, Finnish Red Cross
· Professor Jean-Jacques Eledjam, President, French Red Cross
· Liam O’Dwyer, Secretary General, Irish Red Cross
· Francesco Rocca, President, Italian Red Cross
· Uldis Likops, Secretary General, Latvian Red Cross
· Gintarė Guzevičiūtė, Acting Secretary General, Lithuanian Red Cross
· Paulette Fenech, Director General, Malta Red Cross
· Gijs de Vries, CEO, Netherlands Red Cross
· Asne Havnelid, Secretary General, Norwegian Red Cross
· Silviu Lefter, Director General, Romanian Red Cross
· Zuzana Rosiarová Kesegová, Secretary General, Slovak Red Cross
· Irena Nečemer, Vice President and Legal Representative, Slovenian Red Cross
· Javier Senent, President, Spanish Red Cross
· Ulrika Årehed Kågström, Secretary General, Swedish Red Cross
· Markus Mader, Director, Swiss Red Cross