17 Jun 16 09 Jan 18

MSF to no longer take European Union funding in protest over damaging migration deterrence policies

The medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced today that it will no longer take funds from the European Union and member states, in opposition to their damaging deterrence policies and intensifying attempts to push people and their suffering away from European shores. This decision will take effect immediately and will apply to MSF’s projects worldwide.

Three months into the EU-Turkey deal, which European governments are calling a success, people in need of protection are left paying its true human cost. On the Greek Islands, more than 8,000 people, including hundreds of unaccompanied minors, have been stranded as a direct consequence of the EU-Turkey deal. They have been living in dire conditions and overcrowded camps — sometimes for months. They fear a forced return to Turkey, yet are deprived of essential legal aid, their one defense against collective expulsion. The majority of these families have fled conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“For months, MSF has spoken out about a shameful European response focused on deterrence rather than providing people with the assistance and protection they need,” said Jerome Oberreit, international secretary general of MSF. “The EU-Turkey deal goes one step further and has placed the very concept of ‘refugee’ and the protection it offers in danger.”

‘Once again, Europe’s main focus is not on how well people will be protected, but on how efficiently they are kept away’ 

Last week, the European Commission unveiled a new proposal to replicate the logic of the EU-Turkey deal across more than 16 countries in Africa and the Middle East. These deals would impose trade and development aid cuts on countries that do not restrict migration to Europe or fail to facilitate forcible returns, and reward those that do. Among these potential partners are Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan – four of the top 10 refugee-generating countries.*

“Is Europe’s only offer to refugees that they stay in countries they are desperate to flee? Once again, Europe’s main focus is not on how well people will be protected, but on how efficiently they are kept away,” said Oberreit.

The EU-Turkey deal sets a dangerous precedent for other countries hosting refugees, sending a message that caring for people forced from their homes is optional and that they can buy their way out of providing asylum. Last month, the Kenyan government cited European migration policy to justify their decision to close the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab, sending its residents back to Somalia. Likewise, the deal does nothing to encourage countries surrounding Syria — which are already hosting millions of refugees — to open their borders to those in need. 

Deterrence policies disguised as humanitarian solutions

“Europe’s attempt to outsource migration control is having a domino effect, with closed borders stretching all the way back to Syria. People increasingly have nowhere to turn,” said Oberreit. “Will the situation in Azaz — where 100,000 people are blocked between closed borders and front lines — become the rule, rather than the deadly exception?”

The EU-Turkey deal’s financial package includes one billion euros in humanitarian aid. There are undoubtedly needs in Turkey, a country which currently hosts close to three million Syrian refugees; but this aid has been negotiated as a reward for border control promises, rather than being solely needs-based. This instrumentalization of humanitarian aid is unacceptable.

“Deterrence policies sold to the public as humanitarian solutions have only exacerbated the suffering of people in need. There is nothing remotely humanitarian about these policies. It cannot become the norm and must be challenged,” said Oberreit. “MSF will not receive funding from institutions and governments whose policies do so much harm. We are calling on European governments to shift priorities — rather than maximizing the number of people they can push back, they must maximize the number they welcome and protect.”

MSF has been providing assistance to people crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe since 2002. In the last 18 months alone, MSF medics have treated an estimated 200,000 men, women and children in Europe and on the Mediterranean Sea. The organization is currently caring for refugees and migrants in Greece, Serbia, France, Italy and on the Mediterranean, as well as in countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

MSF’s activities are mainly (92 per cent) privately funded. Nevertheless, the organization is also involved in some financial partnerships for specific programs with institutional donors. In 2015, funding from EU institutions represented 19 million euros, while funding from member states represented 37 million euros. MSF also used 6.8 million euros received from the Norwegian government. In 2016, in addition to ECHO (The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department), MSF is involved in partnerships with nine European member states: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

* UNHCR Mid-Year Trends Report 2015 available online here.

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