A controversial European Union plan to stem the flow of refugees from Turkey got underway on Monday, resulting in the deportation of 202 migrants.
The returns, carried out amid heavy security from detention centers at the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios, were intended to send a clear message to desperate refugees — who cross the perilous Aegean Sea on smugglers’ shoddy rafts seeking freedom — to desist attempts to save their own lives.
The move came on the heels of a deal between EU and Ankara, which proclaimed Turkey will take back all refugees who crossed the Aegean illegally, including the migrants from Syria. In exchange for sending the refugees back to their deaths, Turkey will enjoy visa-free travel, money and progress in its EU membership debate. As if that was not enough, those who are returned will be sent to the end of the line for the chance to resettle in Europe in the future.
For months, Turkey has been under fire for breaching international law and returning refugees illegally to their war-torn states — back to the place where their lives were a living nightmare:
Amnesty International has expressed deep concerns over the operation.
"The returns underway this morning in the Aegean are the symbolic start of the potential disastrous undoing of Europe's commitment to protecting refugees," said Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe, Gauri van Gulik.
Nor do the human rights activists believe such an attempt would stop the desperate people from crossing to the shores of Greece — blocking the main routes may instead make the refugees seek out even more dangerous and expensive means to escape.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to take the blame for the humanitarian crisis, even though his country stands to benefit from the 3 billion euro pledge, and has self-righteously proclaimed:
“Did we turn Syrians back? No, we didn't, but they did," Erdogan said of EU countries. "By way of placing razor wire, they didn't let these people into their countries. We see who's dying on the Aegean Sea. But the number of those rescued by us on the Aegean Sea is 100,000.”
The decision to migrate to Europe has become a double-edged sword for thousands of refugees. Upon arriving to the EU, migrants feel like they’ve “been trapped in prison.” Instead of the warm welcome they expected, they have been subjected to poor living conditions, harsh treatment at immigration offices, abuse at the hands of xenophobes and even confiscation of their property.
A lot of refugees are now contemplating leaving and some have even left via the boats returning migrants on Monday, shining light on the failure of the EU to integrate refugees.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: REUTERS/Murad Sezer