Kurdish women and children from Syria at a Turkish military checkpoint near Kobani
  Kurdish women and children from Syria at a Turkish military checkpoint near Kobani a Syrian town badly damaged by the war. Photo: Bryan Denton for the NYT.

Domino effect: Turkey’s new visa rules violate the principle of non-refoulement

9 January, 2016

As a domino effect of border closures in Europe, Turkey, pressured by the European Union, is now applying visas to Syrian nationals, whom everyone knows are genuine refugees fleeing a bloody civil war and to whom Turkey will in effect never deliver visas. The consequences are immediate. Lebanon forcibly returns the refugees to Syria, in violation of the non-refoulement principle. This consequence was foreseeable and Turkey was fully aware of this: it too violated the non-refoulement principle “par ricochet”. Although neither country has any obligation under the 1951 Refugee Convention (Turkey has a geographical limitation and Lebanon hasn’t ratified it at all), the principle is now considered jus cogens.

European countries should also be held responsible: they count on such human rights violations by transit countries – which they pressure or financially induce into adopting repressive policies – to serve as deterrence for potential future migrants. The fact that this deterrence has never seemed to effectively materialise doesn’t seem to refrain Europe’s enthusiasm for proxy containment mechanisms.

Such repressive policies will only compound the problems faced by refugees and increase the human rights violations against them. They will push the Syrians into the hands of smugglers and increase the underground market for mobility services. The number of migrants reaching Europe will probably diminish slightly in the short term, but not meaningfully over the long run. The number of deaths at sea will likely rise, as more people will try their luck going around the barriers and new sea routes will be developed.

The shortsightedness and insensitivity of such policies are dumbfounding.

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