By Katie Kuschminder, European University Institute
In order to stem the flow of migrants crossing into Europe, the EU signed a deal with Turkey that aims to return migrants without an asylum claim to Turkey. Recently, EU leaders met in Malta and agreed to a new deal with Libya aimed at curtailing the flow of migrants from Libya to Italy. The EU-Turkey deal has been viewed as successful from a policy standpoint in that it has effectively reduced the number of boats crossing from Turkey to Greece. Yet, it is important for us to reflect on why migrants do not want to stay in Turkey, or in Greece for that matter.
In 2015, we interviewed over 1,000 migrants and refugees in Athens and Istanbul from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria.)
The majority of the respondents wanted to migrate onwards from both countries, more so from Greece (74%) than Turkey (59%). Of those that wanted to migrate onwards, nearly all respondents stated that they wanted to go to a desired destination country that had better living conditions, they deemed safe, and had good opportunities to become a citizen or resident. This illustrates that these basic necessities are not being met for migrants and refugees in Turkey and Greece.
Conditions in both Greece and Turkey push migrants and refugees to seek to migrate onwards. Firstly, 58 percent of respondents reported bad or very bad living conditions in Greece and 47 percent in Turkey. These findings are from 2015, prior to the arrival of the UN camps in Greece when many migrants and refugees were living on the streets. In our sample, 40 percent of respondents had lived on the streets in Greece at some point since their arrival.
Secondly, a lack of employment exacerbates the issue of poor living conditions, as migrants and refugees cannot find jobs. Prior to the economic crisis in Greece migrants came to Greece and worked, often irregularly. However, in the current situation jobs are more difficult to find and there is no government social support for refugees.
In Turkey, almost half of respondents worked without legal permission to do so. Respondents spoke of poor working conditions and labour exploitation from Turkish employers, such as not receiving payments after working for three months or longer, or receiving less than was agreed. Migrants and refugees felt helpless confronted with such abuses as first they were working illegally, and second, it was clear that there were many other refugees willing to take their place in order to have any form of income.
Thirdly, a striking number of respondents had experienced abuse, particularly in Greece. Forty-eight per cent of respondents cited abuse as influencing their decisions to migrate onwards from Greece and 32 per cent from Turkey. Some of the respondents in Greece had been in the country for longer than three years; since 2012 xenophobic violence has decreased in Greece. Syrian women I interviewed reported that in Turkey men spat at them and women called them names for being Syrian refugees. These forms of abuse are a cause for concern that further highlights why these migrants and refugees seek to migrate onwards and find protection for their families.
In speaking with migrants and refugees in Greece and Turkey their reasoning for wanting to migrate onwards is clearly understandable. The policies of the EU have locked them in place. As a result, 60,000 refugees are currently freezing in Greece, locked in a holding pattern where they are not able to migrate onwards from the country. Neither do they have opportunities for integration. Scholars have advocated that now is time to recognise the failure of the EU relocation scheme and integrate these people in Greece so that they can move forward with their lives.
Although Turkey has commendably allowed for Syrian refugees to attend school and receive healthcare, there are gaps in implementation and the majority of Syrian children in Turkey are still out of school. Furthermore, refugees from countries such as Afghanistan have no opportunities for legal status in Turkey. Turkey is not a full signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, but the fact that Afghans have no rights to refugee status in Turkey, while simultaneously not being able to go to a country where they can apply for refugees status, is a clear violation of their refugee rights.
In September last year states agreed at the UN Summit on Migrants and Refugees to the New York Declaration, a document which “expresses the political will of world leaders to protect the rights of refugees, to save lives and share responsibility for large movements on a global scale.” It is clear that there is a long way to go in achieving this objective.
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