President Obama heads to Hanover, Germany this weekend and on Monday he will meet with the leaders of Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Among the many likely issues on the agenda: the Syrian refugee crisis and the recent E.U.-Turkey deal.
The meeting gives the president an opportunity to demonstrate leadership on the Syrian refugee crisis. The president should use it to announce that the United States will lead a comprehensive initiative to address the global refugee crisis, encouraging all nations to do more to support increased humanitarian aid, development investment, resettlement, and the protection of the rights of refugees to work, access education, and cross borders to secure protection. In order to lead by example and better support U.S. allies in both Europe and the Middle East, the president should announce that the United States will significantly increase its commitment to resettle Syrian refugees during the next fiscal year.
As detailed in a recent Human Rights First report, such a move supports both U.S. humanitarian and national security interests. A bipartisan group of former U.S. national security officials and retired military leaders have confirmed that refugees are more rigorously vetted than any other travelers to the United States and that “resettlement initiatives help advance U.S. national security interests by supporting the stability of our allies and partners that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees.”
President Obama should also call on all nations—including Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and the European Union—to abide by international law prohibitions against returning refugees to persecution or rejecting them at borders. As documented in the our report, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon have all essentially closed their borders to refugees or imposed restrictions that block most Syrians from fleeing their country—in violation of international law. As a result, thousands are now trapped inside Syria, prevented from fleeing ISIS violence and the continuing persecution and conflict within their country.
Turkey cannot be considered a “safe country” within the meaning of international refugee law and standards. Not only has Turkey blocked thousands from crossing its border with Syria, but it has also returned some refugees to their countries of persecution, as documented by human rights organizations. Just law week Human Rights Watch reported that Turkish border guards shot at Syrian refugees trying to cross to safety in Turkey, and the organization has detailed some of the reasons that Turkey cannot be considered a safe country, including because it does not provide effective refugee protection for non-European refugees and asylum seekers.
The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and human rights organizations have outlined a range of concerns about the recent deal between Turkey and the European Union, including the lack of safeguards to ensure access to asylum. This week, UNHCR reported that Greece deported asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Congo under the deal, without allowing them to register their asylum claims.
Earlier this month, UNHCR called for the implementation of safeguards prior to any deportations under the E.U.-Turkey deal. President Obama should call on the European Union to immediately implement safeguards to protect refugees from improper return, to reject the notion that Turkey is a “safe country” under refugee protection legal standards, and to cease deportations under the flawed E.U.-Turkey deal.