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NGOs sue Dutch gov’t over 2016 EU migrant deal with Turkey

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Three nongovernmental organizations are suing the Dutch government over the European Union’s 2016 migration agreement with Turkey, alleging that it has led to deteriorating conditions for asylum seekers on the Greek islands and violated Dutch, international and EU laws, the Brussels Signal news website reported on Monday.

Amnesty International, the Amsterdam-based Boat Refugee Foundation and the Geneva-based Defense for Children are holding the Netherlands accountable, stating that the country was responsible for the deal as it held the EU presidency when the agreement was signed.

The EU-Turkey deal, a “statement of cooperation” signed in March 2016, was designed to halt irregular migration from Turkey to the Greek islands. Under the agreement, migrants arriving irregularly could be returned to Turkey. In exchange, for every Syrian sent back, an EU member state would resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey. Turkey was also promised 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) for refugee aid and the prospect of visa-free travel to Europe for its citizens.

The NGOs claim the agreement has resulted in human rights abuses. “As a result of this disastrous deal between EU member states and Turkey, tens of thousands of asylum seekers were trapped on the Greek islands, in appalling conditions in camps and closed reception centers,” said Dagmar Oudshoorn, director of Amnesty International Netherlands.

According to Esther Vonk, director of the Boat Refugee Foundation, the conditions in the camps have worsened, turning into high-security facilities with detention-like conditions. She cited the lack of medical care, decent shelter and support for asylum seekers and refugees, particularly on Lesbos.

The organizations argue that the Dutch government was aware of the potential human rights impact yet proceeded with the agreement. They claim the Netherlands unlawfully contributed to creating an inhumane situation by drafting, approving and implementing the deal. The NGOs also criticized the Dutch government’s opposition to transferring people from the islands to mainland Greece, which could have alleviated some of the pressure.

In response to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the Dutch foreign ministry said they are aware of the NGOs’ action and will review the legal documents carefully.

The NGOs are demanding accountability for the consequences of the EU-Turkey deal and the establishment of a mechanism to prevent future human rights violations. “The EU-Turkey deal has had and continues to have a direct impact on the lives of tens of thousands of people, and no one is taking responsibility,” Vonk said, emphasizing the need to prevent the deal from serving as a model for future migration agreements.

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