One year after European Union leaders signed a deal with the Turkish government to cut off the wave of desperate refugees seeking to reach Europe’s shores, the policy has caused even more death and suffering.
As of March 14, nearly 20,000 refugees and migrants had arrived in Europe this year after making the desperate trip across the Mediterranean Sea, according to the latest figures from the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project. That’s a sharp drop compared to the same period last year, when more than 152,700 people entered Europe.
Yet the number of migrant and refugee deaths has actually risen — as a direct consequence of EU governments clamping down on their borders, forcing refugees into ever-more-dangerous crossings. As of March 14, some 525 had been killed or gone missing this year, while 482 were reported killed or missing in the first 73 days of 2016.
Under last year’s deal, the repressive regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was given billions in aid, ostensibly for the refugees, and promised faster progress in Turkey’s negotiations to join the EU. In exchange, Turkey agreed to take in undocumented refugees arriving in Greece. For each refugee sent to Turkey, the EU promised to take in a refugee directly from Turkey’s camps at some point in the future.
As a result, just under a thousand refugees have been deported to Turkey from Greece. But thousands more already in Greece have been stranded in a kind of legal limbo resulting from EU leaders’ unwillingness to let them in — stuck in abysmal conditions in what amounts to little more than prison camps.
“Many of the camps are overcrowded and there are frequent clashes, with those inside tired of the long wait for asylum papers and fearful of being returned to Turkey,” Agence France-Presse reported in a recent feature. “On Lesbos, there are nearly 5,000 people in camps nominally built to hold 3,500, according to government figures.” Those in the camps also face reports of…