The Spanish parliament was the scene of a sharp clash on April 6 over the March 18 European Union-Turkey “pact of shame” that will return up to 50,000 asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey. The asylum seekers — most fleeing from the Syrian civil war — will then be placed in an archipelago of detention centres.
Acting Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, of the conservative People's Party (PP), defended the agreement, saying “things are getting better, we have a procedure”.
He described Turkey as a safe place for refugees and said the EU-Turkey agreement had been improved by the inclusion of clauses from a unanimous March 16 decision of the Spanish parliament. This demanded that any EU-Turkey deal respect individual treatment of claims for asylum, rule out mass deportations and abide by international refugee conventions.
Rajoy even invoked Ahmed Ben Bella, the historic socialist leader of the Algerian independence movement. The acting PM said: “He described the Mediterranean as a vast lake lapping to the north on a golf course and to the south on a paddock of shanties, adding that those Europeans who thought they could live calmly behind their walls in the face of such a reality were mistaken…
“We face a problem that will be with us for a long time, a problem that we have to solve together, because otherwise it could affect basic aspects of the principles of the EU.”
Podemos spokesperson Pablo Iglesias and Xavier Domsnech, spokeperson of Together We Can, the leading Catalan force in the Spanish parliament, condemned the agreement as flouting human rights conventions as well as the Spanish parliament's own position.
They were joined by Alberto Garzon, spokesperson for the United Left—Popular Unity (IU-UP), which has taken out a lawsuit against Rajoy for conniving in the violation of human rights by backing the EU-Turkey deal.
The following edited excerpts contain the main points from the speeches of Iglesias, Domenech and Garzon.
'Not worth less than Europeans'
Iglesias said: “Wouldn't you perhaps agree that you have some nerve quoting Ben Bella after the agreement you have reached? Much as I would like to, I will not quote Ben Bella today, but Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says something very simple: 'Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.'
“We agreed in this parliament on a declaration that established the position of our country, the position of Spain, for the meeting of the European Council of March 17 and 18. That statement said: 'We ask that agreements with Turkey contain guarantees of compliance with international law and of respect for human rights.'
“That law requires certainty that the principle of non-expulsion will be respected. That people can apply for refugee status and, if recognised as refugees, receive protection under the Geneva Convention or under equivalent guarantees in domestic law, including access to the economic and social rights guaranteed by the Convention.
“With all respect, I don't know which part of the declaration you didn't understand. The governments of the 28 member states of the European Union unanimously approved an agreement with Turkey that … continues to violate the obligations of Europe with regard to international law on human rights.
“The agreement definitively buries the right of asylum in Europe and turns its backs on thousands of people who are fleeing terrorism and bombs. Terrorism and bombs of the same intensity, with the same moral weight, as those suffered by Paris or Brussels. These people are not worth less than Europeans.”
Iglesais asked: “How is the case of each asylum seeker going to be given individual treatment with sufficient guarantees in just two or three days, as outlined in the agreement?
“I wonder how it will be possible to fulfil the right to a lawyer and interpreter, the right to appeal the decision of the state [to be suspended during appeal], the right of access to specialised human rights organisations and not immigration authorities for a final decision in the case of each person. How is this possible in two or three days, Mr. Rajoy, as you agreed in Brussels?
“The EU statement asks Turkey to reform its legislation to respect international law on human rights and asylum. Can you explain, Mr. Rajoy, what Turkey committed to? Has Turkey changed its legislation in the three days it took for the agreement to come into effect?
“Can you explain how it is possible that the countries of the European Union, which took more than six months to reach an agreement on sharing refugees took only two days to reach an agreement with Turkey in exchange for €3 billion?
“Turkey has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights in more than 93% of cases in which it has been brought before the court. Now, on the Turkish border there are some 200,000 displaced people living in camps in appalling conditions: without water drinking or sanitation, exposed to the risk of kidnapping and without the chance of registering as asylum seekers for fear of being sent back to Syria.
“It is urgent that legal and safe means of entry to our country and the European Union be opened; it is urgent that the possibility of seeking asylum in embassies and consulates in third countries be established.
“We all saw the image of the drowned boy on the beach. That image is the result of European policy that did not allow his family to seek asylum in embassies or consulates of the European Union because of the Dublin III Protocol. What is needed is that our country stop weeping crocodile tears and demand of the European Union that human rights and international law be respected in the area of asylum.
“We need to reform our asylum system and show greater commitment to welcoming refugees. Currently the level of concession of refugee status is very low, with cases being deliberately kept in government office drawers for the right moment for denial. That is intolerable in a state governed by law.
“Let me end with a reflection by [famous Spanish cartoonist] El Roto: 'The moral stature of countries is inversely proportional to the height of their barbed-wire fences.'”
'A business deal'
Meanwhile, in his speech to parliament, Garzon addressed Rajoy: “The concrete reality — let's say it in a clear way — is that you, as representative of the caretaker government, and other European leaders — whom we have always considered to be a handful of bureaucrats — have signed a business deal, a commercial contract, in which the goods are people; people who should have human rights which you deny, because in this commercial contract you have at the same time hired a bully boy.
“You pay him so that you and all the European leaders can look the other way in the face of the tragedy of millions of people who are in the final instance suffering from terrorism and war.
“It is a commercial contract that also deepens the class divide, because the problem the EU has is with poor people, because for the immigrants who arrive with money the doors are flung open. But when poor people flee from terrorism and war, what you do is put in place your bully boy who not only doesn't protect them, but bashes them up and stands over them while you finance him.”
For his part, Domenech said: “You, Mr Rajoy, said that the goal of the agreement was to dissuade people from coming via unsafe routes, to stop the mafias, to protect the physical safety of people.
“With this approach it is clear that you are unaware that they are living through one of the most atrocious wars of recent years, and that right now in Syria 40% of the population needs, according to the UN, basic humanitarian aid. It is not dissuasion these people need, it is help…
“We are, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, in the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. That was the darkest moment in the history of Europe, of that proud Europe, of that Europe which aimed to explain to the world its higher values and yet had within it concentration camps.
“In that Europe the humanitarian crisis looked, according to the UNHCR, like the current one. Yet from the ashes of that Europe, from the victory against fascism, was born social and democratic Europe, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“The Europe that started as a dream and a hope for democracy and social rights is not today's Fortress Europe, hostile to our brothers and sisters of the Mediterranean, it is not the Europe which turns rights into a business opportunity.
'A crisis for Europe'
“The refugee crisis is not a crisis only of refugees, it is our crisis, it is the crisis of Europe, the crisis of a dream, a hope, a model. And what has the caretaker government done in this situation? Nothing other than be an accomplice.
“But there is also hope in this Europe, there is also opportunity, there are people, institutions, municipalities and governments that react. In this Europe we see how cities — Barcelona and Athens — can establish an agreement to receive refugees.
“In this Europe, we saw yesterday how at the European Commission, Leipzig, Barcelona, Rome, Paris, Athens, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Helsinki came together to say: Enough of these policies! Yes, we can accept refugees! Yes, we do remember! Yes, we do know what it means to respect human rights!”
[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly European correspondent, based in Barcelona. He will be a featured guest at the “Socialism for the 21st Century” conference in Sydney on May 13-15.]