By Martin Kreickenbaum in Germany:
German chancellor strikes sordid deal with Turkish government to block refugees
22 October 2015
Necessity knows no law. True to this motto, German Chancellor Angela Merkel travelled to Istanbul on Sunday to negotiate the terms of a joint plan of action between the European Union and Turkey previously agreed upon by the EU heads of state.
The aim of the plan is to ensure that refugees are stopped before they reach the gates of Fortress Europe. Turkey is to serve as a buffer zone for refugees from Syria and Iraq and assume the role of the EU’s leading border guard. In return, the EU is prepared to meet Turkey’s demands regarding the country’s membership negotiations.
The joint plan of action stipulates that the Turkish coast guard in the Aegean Sea play a more aggressive role in intercepting refugees. So far this year, only 50,000 refugees were intercepted, while 450,000 were able to reach the coast of Greece. To put an end to this, the Turkish coast guard is to undergo technical upgrades and collaborate with the European border protection agency Frontex and the Greek coast guard.
Central to the plan is the acceleration of a readmission agreement, under which Turkey is tasked with taking back refugees who have entered Greece, Bulgaria or Romania. In addition, the EU will finance the construction of six new camps for more than 2 million refugees.
The regime in Ankara is asking in return that the EU meet its demands in five areas. Membership negotiations, stalled since 2013, are to be resumed. The Turkish head of state is to be invited to EU summits, visa requirements for Turkish businessmen are to be eased, Turkey is to be added to the list of “secure states of origin,” and, finally, the government in Ankara wants €3 billion from the EU for the construction and maintenance of planned refugee internment camps.
In a joint press conference with Merkel, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu declared that he was ready for better cooperation, but complained that his country spent $7.8 billion on taking in 2.2 million Syrian and 300,000 Iraqi refugees. He said, “Firstly, the sharing of the refugee burden should be fair. The amount of aid … is secondary. What is more important is the common will to tackle this issue. Turkey has been left alone in recent years.”
Merkel offered to “support the acceleration of the visa process” as long as Turkey agreed to sign the readmission agreement. In addition, she held out the prospect of resuming membership negotiations. “Germany is ready this year to open Chapter 17, and make preparations for [Chapters] 23 and 24.”
Chapter 17 refers to a shared economic and finance policy, while Chapters 23 and 24 typically relate to questions of cooperation in the area of justice, security and human rights.
The German government and the EU are clearly prepared to go a long way toward meeting Turkey’s demands. In last year’s progress report, the EU attested that Turkey still maintained considerable differences with European standards and “appealed for meaningful progress with regard to justice and compliance with fundamental human rights.” The publication of this year’s report has been postponed. A spokesperson for the European Commission explained that this was due to a need to concentrate on the refugee question. In reality, critical passages are no doubt being watered down so that Turkey’s assistance in the defense against refugees is not jeopardized.
Merkel, who said just 10 days ago on the ARD television network that she opposed Turkey’s membership in the EU, now says that “open-ended” membership negotiations will proceed. “We had very promising discussions,” she explained.
Merkel and Davutoglu agreed that a lasting solution to the refugee crisis can only be reached if “the conflict in Syria is resolved”. Davutoglu renewed the call for the establishment of a security zone in northern Syria during the discussions, saying, “a safe zone is needed in order to stop the refugee flow. The deepening conflict between Syrian government forces backed by Russian airstrikes and terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants around the Syrian city of Aleppo risks triggering a new wave of refugees.”
The establishment of a security zone would bring a further escalation of the already extremely tense situation in Syria. The plans would require a massive intervention of ground troops and would be a clear violation of international law, through which the territorial integrity of Syria would be attacked.
President Erdogan maintains that refugee camps will be constructed in the security zone. The reality is that the Turkish government wants, above all, to take action against Kurdish militants and prevent the formation of a contiguous Kurdish region in northern Syria with access to the Mediterranean.
Merkel did not address the question of a “security zone” in Syria, but the German government pledged its support in the fight against terrorism. Because President Erdogan counts among the terrorists the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and their allies in Syria, this means that Merkel has signaled to the Turkish regime that she will at least approve further actions by Ankara against the Kurds. A further military escalation in the region will have catastrophic consequences for the population there and lead to a dramatic increase in the number of refugees.
Merkel’s visit to Turkey and her far-reaching concessions amount to direct support for Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the end phase of Turkey’s parliamentary elections. The German chancellor has done this even though the Erdogan regime has intensified its brutal offensive against the Kurdish minority, incited civil war in eastern Turkey, imprisoned journalists, shut down broadcasters, and dismissed dissident judges and attorneys.
The call for Erdogan to become the doorkeeper of the EU and defend its external borders against refugees was so loud that the strengthening of the corrupt and authoritarian AKP was regarded as an acceptable price to pay.
One hundred Turkish academics protested in an open letter opposing Merkel’s visit and listed the continual violations of the AKP regime against the basic rights of the population.
“These violations have shown that [the] president and prime minister openly defy the common values of the EU,” said the letter. “We are deeply concerned, because your visit will be seen both as support of a politician who takes an active part in a campaign despite the fact that he has sworn to remain impartial, and as endorsing the violation of the most important values of the European Union.”
Merkel’s accommodative attitude toward the authoritarian regime in Ankara was also defended in Germany. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière told ARD: “We cannot always take the moral high ground and teach the whole world about human rights conditions.” Turkey is now the “key” to the refugee question “because so many people come from there.”
Yasmin Fahimi, the general secretary of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has rejected every criticism of Merkel’s visit to Turkey. She told the tabloid Bild newspaper, “Even if the conditions are extremely difficult from a foreign policy perspective and domestically in Turkey, there is no way out of collaborating with Turkey.” She added cynically, “It’s ultimately about improving the situation for refugees.”
While Turkey may play a role as Europe’s border guard in the future, the refugee crisis within European borders is intensifying. Since the Hungarian regime closed all border crossings to Croatia on Sunday, refugees must now cross over Slovenia. The government in Ljubljana has, however, announced it will register and allow passage for at most 2,500 refugees at the border per day.
At the same time, the Austrian government will admit only 1,500 refugees per day from Slovenia, while the Croatian government has temporarily closed the border with Serbia and has built a camp near the Serbian-Croatian border city of Berkasovo at which approximately 10,000 stranded refugees must hold out without shelter and basic necessities in the cold rain.
During a special overnight session, the Slovenian government also moved to mobilise the army at the border for action against refugees. “It’s about strengthening our control of the borders,” said Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar on state-owned radio.
By Benjamin Hader in Germany:
Catastrophic conditions for refugees in Hamburg
22 October 2015
Conditions for refugees in Hamburg have deteriorated severely in the past two weeks. The colder weather and the beginning of overnight frost are impacting their already weakened health. Yet autumn has only just begun and a cold winter is predicted. Of the 35,000 refugees who have entered the city this year, 4,200 are living in tents, 3,000 of them without heating.
The tents are not only extremely cold, but also wet and drafty. People’s clothing is damp and never dries properly. Newly installed heaters do not work or supply only cold air, but continue to run the whole night, according to helpers and refugees. Some of the entrance doors do not close properly. Some refugees, particularly children, spend the night in the toilets, if there is space, because they are at least minimally heated. In some cases refugees removed heaters in order to set them up in the tents.
Heaters were not purchased in sufficient quantities, because the Hamburg Senate maintained it would accommodate refugees in containers or wooden houses during the winter. The appliances take between six to eight weeks to arrive, meaning that no additional heating can be guaranteed to the people living in the 260 tents.
The floors of the tents, which are neither wind nor watertight, are totally sodden after the recent spell of heavy rain. There are no sandbags for emergency measures to dry them out, and the fields are muddy. The Senate nonetheless described the camp as “manageable,” as the Hamburger Abendblatt of 16 October reported, only in the next breath to provide a detail to the contrary: “Due to fear of attacks, a supply of blankets was not distributed to the freezing residents, according to a camp report.”
In Moorpark in the Jenfeld district, firemen covered 56 tents with foil, because rain was getting inside. It is uncertain whether this protection will withstand the next round of bad weather. At the main train station, tents have been set up for the arrival of refugees and provisional first aid since they have no floor and rain is running in.
Refugees report sleeping in scarves, pullovers, trousers, and thick socks, in a sleeping bag and under blankets and, if they are available, towels. But in the fold-up and bunk beds on freezing fields it is hardly possible to sleep. Instead, they survive the nights only by keeping constantly on the move. At the camp on Schnackenburgallee in the district of Bahrenfeld, hundreds of beds are lacking.
Many camp residents have colds, are extremely sick with fever or bronchitis, and ear and tonsil infections. Some cases of lung infections have also been reported. According to statements from doctors, almost all children in the camps are sick.
The horrific conditions in a tent camp
The conditions are particularly chaotic and dramatic for around a thousand refugees in the Schnackenburgallee camp, located next to the noisy A7 autobahn.
“Severely ill residents are sleeping on wooden pallets,” said one worker. “The workforce went on strike for several hours this week to protest against the conditions,” the Hamburger Abendblatt reported. “There is neither power in the medical ambulance, nor in the tents. More than 100 people are seriously ill. Fifteen tents had to be closed because of outbreaks of mould.”
“The majority of children are ill. In addition, there are scabies and other infections among the older ones,” another worker reported. “The doctors are doing all they can, but under these conditions the chances of recovery are virtually nil.” Pregnant women are also affected.
The eyes of children appear as hollow holes and their bodies shake with coughing. Small children appear blue, helpers report. A pregnant woman gave birth to a baby with the help of the guards.
“By midday, the supply of medication ran out and we organised some extra pullovers and sent a lot of children back to their tents. It was grim,” said someone familiar with the reception centre at Schnackenburgallee.
The current accommodation is considered extremely problematic by medical personnel, who have shown a great willingness to assist. “Refugees with infections which never heal cannot be accommodated in tents without floors in these freezing conditions, absolutely not children,” said Professor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, President of the Federal Doctors’ Association.
Over the past three months, there have been 370 cases of suspected diseases where there is an obligation to report, including hepatitis and malaria. “We have three isolation rooms which are almost always full,” report social workers. “We can be satisfied if we identify the most serious conditions on time.”
The medical personnel engaged in the refugee camps is inadequate, especially for children and women. A list of examples of how the Hamburg Senate has failed to meet its responsibility for medical care is not required. It is therefore also not surprising that the authorities are not particularly bothered about hygiene. The last hygiene check took place in the Schnackenburgallee camp in May.
The atmosphere among refugees, in line with the conditions, is characterised by conflicts: they are enraged, aggressive, angry and desperate. Some refugees attacked the management of the camp and tried to storm the administrative rooms. Police described the camp as “close to collapse” and “highly explosive.”
After weeks of silence, Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz saw fit to mention the refugees’ situation on October 14. “It is impressive to see the openness to the world with which the citizens of this city have turned to this task,” he said in a government statement. He hailed the “intact and prosperous city, with the resources to deal with this task”. However, he cannot be accused of actually deploying these resources.
Scholz also made clear that the refugees would have to live in tents over the winter. “Our primary goal at the moment is the avoidance of homelessness.” In the context of previous experiences, the mayor’s pledge to “deal with it”, can only be understood as a threat.
The unbearable conditions are creating fertile ground for attacks from the right. There have already been numerous attacks, not only on refugees, but also on helpers. For example, workers at the central reception centre in Hamburg Wilhelmsburg reported that the wheel nuts were removed from the tires of their cars. A worker almost suffered an accident on their way home.
“Please help us!”
At a protest against the deteriorating conditions on October 15, this writer spoke to volunteers helping refugees and participants.
A group of young people who found themselves in the protest by accident spoke about tent cities in their district. They were angered by the inhumane treatment of refugees, particularly small children and babies. They were deeply shocked when told that refugees would have to spend the winter in tents. “But that can’t happen, they will not manage, how bad are things for refugees already?” one said. One demonstrator summed up the widespread anger, “How is it possible to come to the conclusion to keep people in tents during winter?”
A volunteer who assists refugees at the main train station asked exasperatedly, “How can something like this happen in Germany, in Hamburg, that people are treated like the worst dirt. The authorities are not interested if the people are seriously ill or threatened by death. It has been cold for three days now, where will it lead? It is risking lives. There is enough space and enough money available for accommodation, helpers and aid organisations. But the city thinks it is too good for that; nothing is being done. I don’t understand it.”
The malevolence of the Hamburg authorities and politicians was expressed in a statement by Frank Reschreiter, spokesman for the interior affairs department, that tents which could not be readied for winter should be replaced as quickly as possible with wooden pavilions and containers. In other words, accommodation in tents will continue, and the time it will take for something to change, if at all, is not known.
Several spontaneous protests have taken place over recent days. In front of the city hall and on Jungfernstieg, 100 refugees protested with signs reading, “We are cold, take down the tents, please”, and “Please help us!”