Editorial: EU refugee solution earns a cheer

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It is too soon for total confidence that the EU-Turkey solution will last - not all EU members may be ready to accept Turks' visa-free travel - but the past month has been promising. Photo / AP
It is too soon for total confidence that the EU-Turkey solution will last - not all EU members may be ready to accept Turks' visa-free travel - but the past month has been promising. Photo / AP

Volunteers from the Bethells Beach Surf Life Saving Club fundraised and travelled all the way to the Greek island of Lesbos last week, hoping to help prevent more drownings of desperate people trying to migrate from the Middle East to Europe.

The group arrived with a newly developed inflatable "bridge" to put into use, only to find the humanitarian crisis appears to be over. Turkey has been stopping the boats for the past four weeks under an agreement made with the European Union that was controversial at the time and predicted to fail.

Under the deal, Turkey agreed to take back all refugees or illegal migrants in return for the EU accepting one Syrian refugee for every person Turkey takes back. Turkey also negotiated some visa-free travel rights to Europe for its citizens and a monetary grant to help prevent a repeat of the scenes during the last northern summer when Germany opened its door to asylum applications from anyone who could reach its territory.

Many thousands of people, not all refugees from the war in Syria, were soon walking through the Balkans and pressing on barricades hastily erected by EU's border states, or paying for a dangerously over-crowded boat trip across the Aegean Sea.

Their plight was dramatised to the world by the image of a drowned infant in the arms of his father on a Greek beach. The Bethells surf lifesavers were the latest to be moved by that image and they surely will be relieved to find they may not be needed.

It is too soon for total confidence that the EU-Turkey solution will last - not all EU members may be ready to accept Turks' visa-free travel - but the past month has been promising.

It has proved, for one thing, that many of those who took advantage of the "Syrian" refugee crisis were not Syrian. The people who disembarked from the first two Turkish-flagged boats to be brought back from Lesbos by Turkish coastguard vessels last month were primarily from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Others have turned out to be from Afghanistan and as far afield as Morocco.

The EU-Turkey deal was opposed by the UN High Commission for Refugees and the first deportations from Lesbos proceeded to protests from those who wanted to welcome the migrants.

But a million people are said to have made it into Europe last summer, stretching even Germany's welcome to the limit. It is not realistic to invite a migration wave on this scale, and not compassionate to encourage people to risk their children's lives in the sort of sea crossings attempted last summer.

Nor is it fair to the refugees who are following the UN's procedures for orderly assessment and resettlement. The EU-Turkey agreement has the potential to reward Syrians waiting in line at the expense of those who may have come from less dangerous places.

But most important, the return of boat people seems to have underlined that there is no point in these perilous journeys. It is not often that international solutions work so well but when it happens, it deserves a tentative cheer.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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