Non-refoulement is a fundamental principle in international law that was first laid out in the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees in 1954.[i] Article 33(1) of the convention provides that: “no Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”[ii] Recently, Turkey breached this principle of non-refoulement by illegally returning thousands of Syrian refugees to war-torn Syria.[iii]
According to a report conducted by Amnesty International, about 100 Syrians have been sent back to their war-torn country every day since January.[iv] This news comes shortly after Turkey struck a deal with the European Union (aimed at stemming the flow of refugees arriving in Greece), agreeing to accept refugees in return for aid and political concessions.[v] Under the agreement, all “irregular migrants” arriving in Greece from Turkey on 20 March onwards will face being sent back.[vi] The agreement further stipulates that the EU will take in one Syrian (who has made a legitimate request) for each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey.[vii] The process, which is known as “one in, one out,” is meant to discourage illegal migration into Europe.[viii]
Amnesty says this latest report exposes the flaws in the deal between Turkey and the EU.[ix] Critics of the deal say the EU is irresponsibly returning Syrian refugees to an unsafe country, in a desperate effort to seal its borders.[x] In the Amnesty report, John Dalhuisen remarked, “in their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have willfully ignored the simplest of facts: Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day.”[xi]
Turkey’s recent breach of international law is symptomatic of a larger issue. There is no end in sight for Syria’s civil war, and the number of people fleeing Syria will only increase. Since Syria’s civil war began more than five years ago, Turkey has taken in more refugees than any other country worldwide.[xii] Put simply, Turkey is overwhelmed. The country has struggled to accommodate the refugees, who are putting a strain on Turkey’s economy and healthcare system.[xiii] While it is not acceptable for Turkey to return refugees to war-torn Syria, it is also not acceptable for the world to sit idly by as thousands of Syrians flee the ongoing violence and hostility in Syria.
Yasmine Akkad is a third year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law J.D. Candidate (’16). She holds a Bachelors of Science in Law and American Civilization and a minor in English from Towson University. Her primary interests include international law and international human rights law. In addition to being a CICL Fellow, she competed in the 2014-2015 Jessup International Moot Court Competition, Mid-Atlantic Region, and is an active member of the American Society of International Law.