Europe – Mark Rutte: respect human rights for refugees

Dear President of the Council of the European Union Mark Rutte,

On March 18th a deal was signed between the EU and Turkey. Both you and Diederik Samsom played a crucial role in this disastrous agreement, a deal that is not only causing unnecessary suffering for the over 50.000 refugees trapped in Greece, but also violates international human rights treaties. And the effect of the deal reaches far beyond the borders of Greece. “Fortress Europe” has become a grim reality. New European border closings and national laws discriminating against refugees are no longer an exception. With the closing of the southern border with Syria, we are now experiencing not only “Fortress Europe” but also “Fortress Turkey”. Syrians fleeing bombs and terror are trapped, and those attempting to cross have been shot at and in some cases even killed.

The lasting effect of this agreement is uncertain, but the current effect is painfully clear:

– With the blockage of the Balkan route, refugees have been forced to remain in conditions which are inadequate and severely overcrowded with lack of privacy, food and insufficient sanitary conditions. Yet the findings of Amnesty International and volunteers on the ground have fallen on deaf ears.
– There has been a grave lack of information on human rights and inadequate access to the registration and asylum process in Greece. Many asylum seekers are struggling to apply using a Skype-based system with access being near to impossible.
– Volunteers helping refugees – people like you and me – have had their invaluable work obstructed; some have even been detained and arrested by local Greek police and Frontex, the EU border force.
– According to Save the Children an estimated 2.000 unaccompanied children who travelled alone or lost their families are now stranded in Greece without adequate shelter.
– And in our backyard – in France – there are 3.000 unaccompanied minors living in limbo.
– A shocking 10.000 child refugees have just disappeared, children at risk of abduction, violence and sexual exploitation. Mind you, these are children who have fled violence and conflict expecting Europe to be a safe haven.

Doctors without Borders as well as other NGO’s and UN officials have openly denounced the illegality of the agreement. An agreement with a country that by no means can be considered “safe”: according to a recent Amnesty International study Turkey sent back hundreds of Syrians to their war-torn homeland where hospitals and medical centres continue to be targets.

This is an agreement that doesn’t even fulfil its basic goal of saving lives: in the past months over 500 refugees have died in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean.

Europe’s response to this humanitarian crisis is shameful!

In three days you, the Prime Minister of The Netherlands and the current President of the Council of the European Union, as well as Diederik Samsom and the rest of the EU leaders determined the fate of hundreds of thousands of refugees. If the EU was able to close this deal in three days then how is it that the EU Emergency Relocation Program – agreed upon by member states in September 2015 – has been unsuccessful? Why is it that refugees seeking asylum still fall prey to smugglers and drown? The government of The Netherlands and the European Union can no longer turn away from its responsibility.

On May 14, 2016 we, a group of concerned citizens, volunteers, activists and refugees, gathered at the Peace Palace in The Hague to defend the human rights of refugees. Today we continue to call on Dutch and European leaders to fulfil their obligations to guarantee the human rights of refugees, safe passage and humane shelter here in The Netherlands as well as in Greece, Turkey and all member states of the EU.

We therefore demand the following:

– Recognize the right of every refugee to request asylum and their right to appeal.
– Provide efficient and proper legal assistance to the 50.000 currently detained in Greece and send asylum agents to help Greek authorities as promised.
– Provide safe, healthy accommodations for all refugees but especially for those with special needs and unaccompanied minors.
– Allow unaccompanied minors to be reunited with their families as stipulated by the European Treaty for Human Rights. Also ensure that current status holders in Europe may request family reunion on a timely basis.
– Accept asylum seekers from Greece under the EU Emergency Relocation Program.
– Allow legal and safe passage for those fleeing war and hunger. Permit refugees to seek asylum by granting humanitarian visa applications, family reunion and asylum requests in foreign embassies.
– Stop the bombing in Syria and demand that Aleppo be included in the cease-fire zone.
– #StopTheDeal!

Yours sincerely,

The Refugee Circle
Lee A. Tolman
Diana Kretschmann
Marianne van Leeuwen
Organisers of the Protest # Human Rights 4 Refugees, Peace Palace, The Hague, May 14, 2016

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