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10 March 2016updated 27 Jul 2021 7:00am

It’s not much comfort for refugees if they exchange Syrian repression for the same in Turkey

If Turkey is to continue to be a strong ally to the EU in addressing this crisis, we must always have human rights and the rule of law at the forefront of our negotiations. 

By Tom Brake

On the face of it, in the sorry saga of the Syrian War which caused the greatest humanitarian crisis of a generation, Turkey is one of the few saviours providing security to refugees fleeing the region. In the process they are helping to defend the borders of the European states who are reluctant to increase their share of this huge burden.

It’s therefore understandable that European leaders will this week agree to the implementation of the €3bn package which will help address the need of more than two million refugees already in Turkey. However, there are serious concerns about how this is implemented, and how this action plan interacts with the wider agenda of the Turkish government.

If we are to resolve this crisis, refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq cannot be left in poverty once they have fled, but instead must be provided with employment opportunities, health services and, most critically, education for the next generation, empowering them to rebuild their lives after the cessation of the conflicts engulfing the Middle East.

Currently, Turkey is failing to provide any of these solutions, and has repeatedly pushed asylum seekers back to Syria. Syrian refugees are given only temporary rights to work under certain conditions, while refugees from other countries are given even less legal protection. Asylum seekers are not being held humanely. Asylum seekers are not being held humanely and Turkey has taken the controversial step of closeing all but one of if its borders to those recently fleeing the besieged Aleppo, causing huge panic for refugees. As desperation increases on all sides, we must uphold the most basic of human rights for all asylum seekers. Turkey’s failure to do so is only encouraging them to turn to the traffickers and smugglers who hold human rights in the lowest regard and push them out to sea.

Europe needs Turkey to cooperate, but it is completely counterproductive for the EU to allow President Erdoğan to use EU cooperation to cover up blatant abuses across Turkish society. Just as a deal was agreed last Friday between Erdoğan and the European Council, authorities seized Turkey’s biggest opposition newspaper in a further crackdown on freedom of speech. Against a backdrop of the destruction of the ability to scrutinise the government, the persecution of the Kurds by the Turkish authorities has increased and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) continues to be in conflict with the Turkish authorities. The Kurds are one of the International Coalition’s greatest allies in the fight against Islamic State (IS), yet Turkey continues to refuse to recognise the importance of their help and instead seeks to undermine their position wherever possible. On a broader level Turkey, a NATO state we should all remember, is at loggerheads with Russia, and this increased volatility threatens to destabilise the region even further.

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What the refugee crisis needs most is international cooperation, with a strong UK playing its part in a strong EU. The support the EU is giving Turkey is welcome, but we should tread carefully when dealing with a state with such a low regard for human rights. If Turkey is to continue to be a strong ally to the EU in addressing this crisis, we must always have human rights and the rule of law at the forefront of our negotiations. 

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