Oppose the EU refugee deal with Turkey

No European Union deal with Turkey on refugees until the Turkish government demonstrates a willingness to end its war on the Kurdish people and begins negotiations with their representatives instead of imprisoning and killing them.

The flow of refugees out of Syria constitutes a humanitarian crisis and presents the European Union and its member states with a profound political challenge. Democratic values and respect for different peoples are threatened by totalitarian and racist tendencies that exploit anxieties exacerbated by the so-called “refugee crisis”. The European Union must confront the challenges both within its constituent countries and in its relations with other states, in particular with Turkey. Threats to democracy and peace have to be faced and overcome.

EU policy-makers have resorted to constructing a fortress capable of “weathering the storm,” and diverting refugees and other migrants. Civil liberties have been curbed and surveillance increased in a battle against terrorism. Such policies may be electorally-expedient, but they are short-sighted and ultimately counterproductive. The causes of chaos and destruction in the Middle East need to be addressed, and this includes in Turkey.

Recent developments in Turkey demonstrate that the conflict and chaos in the Middle East and the war in Syria has spilled over into the Kurdish region inside Turkey.

Since President Erdogan ended the peace process last year, 58 separate curfews have been imposed across the Kurdish region; soldiers kill citizens with impunity. The death toll of civilians is running to over 300 people, including more than 84 children killed. Yet the Turkish government says that no civilians have been killed and that all the dead are terrorists. Numerous atrocities have been perpetrated during these curfews. According to a preliminary report by jurists associated with the Libertarian Lawyers’ Association, based on a visit to Cizre, during which the team of lawyers “was followed by armored vehicles and threatened by security forces dressed in civilian clothing,” there have been “enforced displacements of the people of Cizre by actions such as bombing, demolition, and threats, which resulted in lack of food, electricity, water, heating and basic needs.” Amnesty International and the Council of Europe have expressed grave concerns about areas placed under curfew, condemning the use of disproportionate force and the imposition of measures that amount to collective punishment, and have called on Turkey to allow independent observers (;

Cities under curfew have become war zones, pounded with heavy artillery and tank fire. Children and other civilians have been shot dead in streets, but due to the curfew, their bodies could not be retrieved for extended periods. Special Forces are licensed to shoot anyone with full impunity, with no fear of consequences. They are not commanded by local governors but are directly tied to the central government. In Cizre, people, many of them civilians who took refuge in three different basements have been killed, burned alive; the state has destroyed the buildings to remove the evidence. Violence against women has increased. Women have been killed, stripped and humiliated. These are war crimes and crimes against humanity. The European Union cannot remain silent about them without colluding in the atrocities.

The Turkish army has taken its war on the Kurds into Syria itself, attacking the autonomous region of Rojava and arming fundamentalist gangs to fight the Kurds in northern Syria.

The Turkish government’s conflict with the Kurdish movement is corroding the institutional life of Turkish society. Academics are threatened for opposing the war, lawyers are intimidated and subject to criminal charges for defending Kurds, journalists face long prison sentences and media outlets are closed down for questioning the descent into war. Those who speak out in Turkish “civil society” are being silenced. When people who advocate dialogue and peace are harassed and detained as terrorist accomplices, when advocates of peace like Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair, Selahattin Demirtas, are targeted for assassination, when Diyarbakir’s most prominent pro-Kurdish lawyer and peace advocate is gunned down in the streets with impunity, this is state terrorism and it must be denounced by the European Union. It is unacceptable and self-defeating that the European Union or any European state should reach an agreement to send refugees to Turkey when the Turkish state is waging war against people within its own borders and in Syria itself.

The escalating conflict in the Kurdish region of Turkey and the attack on democratic rights has coincided with the silencing of the leader of the Kurdish movement, Abdullah Öcalan, who has been totally isolated since April 2015. Ocalan is widely regarded by Kurds as their leader and guide. Eighteen years into his detention at Imrali Island, Ocalan is held in solitary confinement. Two other prisoners who were formerly present on Imrali have been transferred to other high-security prisons. Öcalan’s only human contact is with his guards. Not even his family can visit him. His lawyers, who have not been able to visit him since 2011, apply to visit at least once a week, and are repeatedly turned down, with absurd excuses like the boat to the island being broken. No one at all has been permitted to visit Ocalan since the last HDP delegates left on April 5, 2015. No communication from him has been received since then. Ocalan is suffering from poor health and his access to medical care is limited. Left with no news, millions of Kurds are worried about Ocalan.

The European Union’s response to developments in Turkey has been shameful. Over the past decade and a half, in Turkey’s drive for European accession, the carrot of EU membership and dream of achieving European living standards had a liberalizing and restraining influence on successive Turkish governments; some consideration of minority rights and accommodation of cultural diversity were afforded. However, relations between Turkey and Europe have been transformed, in a menacing direction. No longer does the EU appear capable or interested in exercising liberalizing leverage over the Turkish authorities. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has the support of the majority of the Kurdish people and which fights the terror gangs of Islamic State, remains banned in the European Union and in Britain. This proscription must be lifted and dialogue with Ocalan and the PKK encouraged. The Erdogan government uses the refugees to extract rewards from the EU, even as it suppresses freedom of expression, even as it attacks the Kurds.

Just two weeks before Turkey’s 1 November 2015 general election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing intense domestic “pressure to stem the flow of refugees into Europe,” travelled to Istanbul to meet with President Erdogan, “where she pledged to push forward Turkey’s long-delayed bid to join the European Union in return for co-operation” in keeping the refugees out of Europe. Merkel was not alone in her appetite for appeasement. Indeed, as Time magazine reported, “[d]esperate to engage with Ankara over the migrant crisis, Brussels … even delayed the European Commission’s annual report on Turkey’s EU membership application until after the November elections – a report that was expected to contain heavy criticism of Erdogan’s autocratic rule and disregard for EU principles of freedom of expression” (

In March 2016, Chancellor Merkel began to deliver on her promise, when the EU struck a deal with Turkey at a summit, according to which all refugees and migrants arriving in Greece are to be returned, in exchange for “‘reenergized’ talks on [Turkey’s] EU membership, and 3 billion Euros in financial support for the Erdogan government, nominally “intended to help Syrian refugees in Turkey” (

The deal has come under scrutiny from human rights’ advocates. Back in October 2015, when Merkel visited Erdogan, plans for the deal were first announced. Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey, complained that “a deal premised on keeping refugees in Turkey fundamentally ignores both the challenges they face there and the obvious need for the EU to offer protection to a greater share of the world’s burgeoning refugee population” ( In April 2016, the Council of Europe agreed with this judgment, issuing a report that amounted to a “stinging indictment” of the deal, which it warned might even “exceed the limits of what is permissible in international law.” According to the report, “Even on paper, [the deal] raises many serious questions of compatibility with basic norms on refugees’ and migrants’ rights. It has so far given every indication of being even more problematic in practice” (

Not only does the EU look the other way while the Erdogan government commits human rights atrocities, it even rewards it for pledging to help keep refugees at bay, safely outside of the “fortress.” There should be no European Union deal with Turkey on refugees until the Turkish government demonstrates a willingness to end its war on the Kurdish people and begins negotiations with their representatives instead of imprisoning and killing them.

Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign

10 July 2016


Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Gingell – Tel: 020 7272 7890

Patrons: Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford, Jill Evans MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Hywel Williams MP, Kate Osamor MP, Elfyn Llwyd, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, John Austin, Christine Blower, NUT International Secretary, Simon Dubbins. UNITE International Director, Bruce Kent, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, John Berger, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen OBE, Prof Mary Davis, Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Mark Thomas, Nick Hildyard, Stephen Smellie, Derek Wall, Melanie Gingell