Conditions in the Idomeni refugee camp in Greece are the subject of international concern.
A new deal between Europe and Turkey hopes to stop the flow of refugees into Greece.



Breaking Down Turkey's Controversial New Refugee Plan

Over the past few years, the largest influx of refugees into Europe since World War II has tested the limits of humanitarian aid. The mass exodus of Middle Eastern refugees away from warzones in Syria and other countries has divided the world and shown the best and worst sides of humanity. Canadians have united to welcome refugees into their country—even if they’re wearing furry costumes when they do it. There’s even a refugee center in Berlin for LGBT refugees who have been attacked and discriminated against in camps.

Unfortunately, the crisis has also been a catalyst for a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment. Countries have proposed barbed-wire fences, total bans on Muslims, and even forced refugees to give up their valuables in exchange for staying in the country (what’s good, Denmark?). Now, Turkey has joined the countries cracking down on the free flow of refugees with a controversial new plan.

Turkey has over 2.7 million refugees in their country alone.
Turkey has over 2.7 million refugees in their country alone.

“Of course the [European Union] and Turkey have the same goal, the same objective, to help Syrian refugees especially. This is our purpose. I am sure, I hope we will be achieving our goal,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu explained. The goal of helping refugees was already a high bar to meet, considering the fact that Turkey is one of the key points of passage for refugees fleeing war. It borders Syria and Iraq on one side, and borders Bulgaria and is across the Mediterranean Sea from Greece on the other. With more than 2.7 million migrants stuck within Turkey’s borders alone, the influx of refugees into the European continent and—more specifically—into Greece, has become a point of contention during talks with the 28-member European Union.

Refugees wait to cross the Greek-Macedonian border near Idomeni in northern Greece.

Starting on Sunday, all refugees arriving in Greece will be returned to Turkey. It’s part of a controversial “one-for-one” deal that allows one Syrian in Turkey to be given a new home in Europe for every one refugee sent back to Turkey from Greece. In exchange for taking refugees back, Turkey’s budget for assisting refugees in their country has been doubled to €6 billion once the initial €3 billion agreed to in November is spent.

It’s all part of a larger effort to improve the situation in Greece, where 45,000 refugees are stuck. Of these tens of thousands waiting to be told where they can go, 14,000 are living in squalid conditions near the Greek-Macedonian border at the Idomeni refugee camp. Dangerous health conditions at refugee camps have become a point of international concern among world leaders, as fear of disease and malnutrition take hold.

Ai Weiwei brought a piano to a camp so a refugee could play for the first time in three years.
Ai Weiwei brought a piano to a camp so a refugee could play for the first time in three years.

World leaders aren’t the only ones taking notes and speaking out. A number of artists have come out to support refugees and expose the conditions in camps over the past few months. Bansky created a mural to criticize the Calais refugee camp known as the “Jungle,” and Ai Weiwei has become an outspoken advocate for the migrants, witnessing the squalor in refugee camps firsthand. He’s spent the past several months documenting refugee camps and the larger refugee crisis on the whole as part of a mission to keep the public’s awareness focused on the refugees who’re struggling to survive. From getting a haircut in the camp by a refugee barber to bringing a grand piano for a Syrian who hadn’t played in three years, he’s been showcasing the real lives and passions of the people in the camps. As the world reacts to the Turkey deal and what it will mean for the refugees trying to find safe passage and a new home, it’s important to remember the humanity of a group of people who have risked everything to find safety.

Images via The Washington Post, The Guardian, EPA, and Getty. 

Stay tuned to Milk for more coverage of the refugee crisis. 

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