The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner has criticized the proposed EU-Turkey resettlement scheme as unworkable and illegal. He says the only solution is for EU members to take collective responsibility.
Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks has been a vocal critic of the proposed refugee resettlement scheme being negotiated this week between the European Union and Turkey. That plan would allow the European Union to deport refugees arriving in Greece back to Turkey. In return, Turkey would receive cash, progress on visa-free travel for its citizens and progress on its EU membership application. The European Union would also accept Syrian refugees from Turkey on a special one-to-one ratio, accepting one for every migrant returned to Turkey.
In an interview with DW, Muiznieks says the scheme would violate Europe's core principles and international law.
DW: The EU and Turkey are meeting this week to craft a resettlement scheme that would trade refugees between Europe and Turkey. Could this work?
Nils Muiznieks: In my opinion this will not work for a number of reasons. First of all, desperate asylum-seekers and refugees will find different routes to Europe - through Bulgaria, through the Black Sea, across the Mediterranean to Italy, across the Mediterranean to Spain - it won't stem the flow significantly in my view.
It will also lead to a lot of legal challenges to the deal at the European Court of Human Rights. It's in clear violation of a number of legal provisions. And then you might ask also: Will European public opinion tolerate the sight of women and children being forcibly sent back to Turkey? So in my view it won't work, it's not legal, and it's not moral.
You've gone on record to say that no deal is better than a bad deal. Why is that?
The core principle of the international refugee regime is that every person seeking protection has the right to have his case examined on a case-by-case basis on the individual merits. This deal does not foresee that. It foresees summary expulsions of people. So it's against its fundamental principle which is enshrined in the international refugee regime as well as it contravenes the principle of the ban on collective expulsions - so it would be an illegal deal. It would undermine the very foundations upon which Europe is built. And so the question is: Why strike an illegal deal which undermines everything we claim to stand for?
The EU's response to the refugee crisis has been piecemeal, with failure to coordinate between member states. This hasn't helped the humanitarian situation, nor has it brought a feeling of security. What is your advice to national leaders confronting this challenge?
The first piece of advice is to stress that no national solution to this migratory challenge is possible. It's an illusion that you can deal with this by yourself; it's an illusion that you can foist the responsibility onto other countries, onto your neighboring countries.
One of the principals in the European Union is that of solidarity. If you do not participate in collectively resolving this migration crisis then there is no Europe, there is no union. Not only that but I think it's counterproductive to try to do it alone. Any country can face migratory pressures and if there's no solidarity, if there's no rules-based mechanism for sharing this responsibility, countries will be faced with impossible challenges.
We need more Angela Merkels in Europe - I think she's been exemplary in showing the way forward - but thus far she's been alone. So I commend her approach to this but I wish there were more leaders like her.
Greece is itself in the throes of an economic crisis. Now add to this crisis that tens of thousands of refugees are trapped since the closing of the so-called Balkan Route to northern Europe. How did we get here and is there a way out?
The dilemma right now is that we're paying for our neglect of this issue over the years. This is not a new phenomenon. If you look at Greece and Italy these countries have been coping with the influx of large numbers of migrants and asylum-seekers for many years and the system has been dysfunctional for many years. So, if you go to Greece and Italy and talk with people there, they say this is not a new challenge; it's just finally reached the back door of many countries in Europe.
The same holds true with the Syrian refugee crisis. This is not a new problem - this has been brewing for many years. I myself tried to ring the alarm more than two years ago that it is completely an illusion to think all the refugees would remain in the region - in Turkey in Lebanon and in Jordan - and that much more needed to be done.
Nobody listened back then - to me, to the UNHCR or to others ringing this alarm bell - and now the chickens have come home to roost.
Nils Muiznieks has been the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights since April 1, 2012. He is based in Strasbourg.