With politicians and policy makers struggling with the legalities and logistics of the controversial refugee agreement negotiated between the European Union and Turkey, set to take effect on April 4th, the United Nations, along with the expected press releases, launched a social media campaign supporting refugees’ rights to be treated humanely.
The “…initiative, #actofhumanity, emphasising that children are children, no matter where they come from, and that every child has rights and deserves a fair chance[i].” Appealing to the masses, the campaign sends a powerful message to both individuals and leaders around the world.
The campaign includes a series of short videos, called the “unfairy tales”, and evocative graphics as to the inherent unfairness confronting refugees. Some graphics highlight the abysmal numbers of children involved, while others put the spotlight on individuals who have treat refugees a manner constituting an act of humanity.
The @UNICEF tweet pinned, which is the tweet at the top of its Twitter account, was retweeted 729 times in under five days:
- All children deserve an #actofhumanity. Battle stigma facing refugees and migrants: uni.cf/actofhumanity pic.twitter.com/uXDz73XuY1.
The @UNICEF Twitter banner graphic was replaced with one reflecting the #ActofHumanity campaign and is also the banner graphic for this article.
Other tweets sent by various arms of the United Nations and its partners have been retweeted hundreds of times. A representative sample includes the following tweets:
- All children deserve an #actofhumanity. Battle stigma facing refugees and migrants: uni.cf/actofhumanity, UNICEF (@UNICEF), 3/29/16, 3:05 AM.
- UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees), 3/29/16, 6:16 PM, We call on governments to be part of finding solutions for Syrian refugees trib.al/UuARdvm pic.twitter.com/sV8PpsOYYy.
- UN Geneva (@UNGeneva), 3/30/16, 10:32 AM, Ban Ki-moon’s statement to the @Refugees Global Responsibility Sharing Conference – ow.ly/104v6t pic.twitter.com/e9I65mpSKS.
- UN News Centre (@UN_News_Centre), 3/30/16, 4:02 PM, More ‘equitable’ responsibility-sharing needed to relieve plight of Syrian refugees – @UN bit.ly/1M03kqf pic.twitter.com/VId0ggm6rJ.
- UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees), 3/30/16, 5:13 PM, A clear message from @RefugeesChief at today’s conference on solutions for Syrian refugees trib.al/URIITHJ pic.twitter.com/gL8sVa5aAw.
- Voices of Youth (@voicesofyouth), 3/30/16, 6:17 PM, We have the power to change things. Fight stigma about refugees with an #actofhumanity: uni.cf/actofhumanity pic.twitter.com/iAfysaispE.
- CtrChildImmigrants (@KidsImmigration), 3/30/16, 7:05 PM, Great thoughts from @UNICEF on the refugee and migrant crisis: bit.ly/1SmOeaS#actofhumanity #InvestInKids pic.twitter.com/rnE2Tta0VW.
- United Nations (@UN), 3/30/16, 9:05 PM, Attempts to demonize refugees are not only offensive; they are factually incorrect. j.mp/1VTnWCC pic.twitter.com/iIhhE2QSRS.
- World Food Programme (@WFP), 3/31/16, 10:35 AM, The world is facing the biggest refugee and migrant crisis since WW2. Children need an #actofhumanity via @UNICEF pic.twitter.com/dPUnP7YYwZ.
- UN Spokesperson (@UN_Spokesperson), 3/31/16, 7:05 PM, Ask your leader to commit to #ShareHumanity at May’s @WHSummit. This is how: impossiblechoices.org pic.twitter.com/kWc81qb3RM.
The “Unfairy Tales” can be downloaded here athttp://weshare.unicef.org/Package/2AMZIF3BZ9S.
UNICEF’s Act of Humanity media campaign, when read in conjunction with formal press releases, implies that the agreement between the European Union and Turkey may constitute a crime against humanity in violation of the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and the International Declaration of Human Rights.
“UNHCR is not a party to the EU-Turkey deal, nor will we be involved in returns or detention,” stated a UNHCR press release[ii].
Under the agreement, for every Syrian refugee Greece accepts into the European Union, one refugee would be returned to Turkey[iii]. Under international law, Turkey has not been designated a “safe third country” or a “safe first country of asylum” based on its failure to adhere to Rule of Law, including the commission of well-known human rights violations involving repression of the press, and the persecution of Kurds in Turkey and the bombing of Kurds in Syria.
The agreement requires legislation to be enacted by both Greece and Turkey. There is concern that Turkey will not timely enact appropriate legislation or that any legislation passed would exclude non-Syrian refugees. The bill introduced in Greece failed to name Turkey as a “safe third country”. Cognizant of negative criminal ramifications, Greece previously sought concurrence from its European Union partners at an EU-Turkey summit several weeks ago by requesting the EU collectively declare Turkey a “safe third country”. Several EU member states refused.
“I am deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told the European Parliament[iv].
There is also concern that about a lack of safeguards preventing Turkey from engaging in refoulement, or forced return[v]. According to a report released today by Amnesty International, Turkey has been illegally forcing 100 Syrian refugees every day to return to Syria, with the total numbering in the thousands sparking concern as to Turkey’s intentions under the agreement with Greece and the EU[vi].
In addition, the UNHCR stated that Greece lacks sufficient capacity on the islands for assessing asylum claims, and a lack of decent and safe accommodations for asylum seekers pending examination of their cases[vii]. “People determined to be needing international protection should be able to enjoy asylum, without discrimination, in accordance with accepted international standards, including effective access to work, health care, education for children, and, as necessary, social assistance[viii].”
For that reason, the UNHCR has stated that the agreement is one of detention impacting children who constitute one third of those seeking refuge, the UNHCR has withdrawn its logo and aid workers from Greece[ix].
Going forward, UNHCR will focus on protection monitoring to ensure that refugee and human rights standards are upheld, and provide information on the rights and procedures to seek asylum. NGOs are following suit.
United Nations agencies, including the UNHCR, and humanitarian aid organizations have criticized the deal as violating EU law and international law. Condemnation issued from Doctors Without Borders, who characterized the agreement as “cynical and inhumane”, and from Amnesty International[x].
Perhaps foretelling the future, six months ago, on October 31, 2015, with countries closing off borders to the 60 million people having been displaced as a result of armed conflict, a joint statement issued by Union Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Mauer called on states to:
■ rein in armed groups and hold them accountable for abuses, and stop the use of heavy weapons in populated areas;
■ protect and assist displaced people fleeing insecurity, and help to find long-term solutions;
■ ensure unhindered access to medical and humanitarian missions;
■ condemn those who violate international humanitarian law; and
■ redouble efforts to find sustainable solutions to conflicts[xi] (Emphasis Added).
Condemnation is commonly defined as censure, to pronounce guilty, punishment and sentencing. Their statement contained a less than veiled hint that crimes against humanity were already being committed in violation of international human rights law.
Call to Action
While you may not be a policy maker, chances are you live in a country where you have the right to vote for your leaders. By participating in UNICEF’s “act of humanity” campaign, you are choosing to send a powerful message, not only to your leaders, but also to those countries your own country has partnerships and alliances. Ourleaders do follow social media.
About the Author
Cynthia M. Lardner is a journalist, holding degrees in journalism, law, and psychology. As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking understanding that everything and everyone is subject to change given the right circumstances; Standard Theory or Theory of Everything. Living in Den Hague or The Hague, she is currently looking for a challenging position in foreign policy, journalism, or social justice.
[ii] “UN refugee agency redefines role in Greece as EU-Turkey deal comes into effect”, March 22, 2016, UN News Center, as found on the www athttp://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=53515#.Vv4dMmddanM.
[iv] Baczynska, Gabriela, and Nebehay, Stephanie, “U.N., rights groups say EU-Turkey migrant deal may be illegal”, March 9, 2016, Reuters News, as found on the www at http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSKCN0WA1D4.
[v] “‘Refugees need protection, not rejection,’ UN says in wake of EU-Turkey deal”, March 18, 2016, UN News Center, as found on the www athttp://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=53490#.Vv4fTKddanM.
[vii] “UN refugee agency redefines role in Greece as EU-Turkey deal comes into effect”, Infra Endnote ii.
[viii] “‘Refugees need protection, not rejection,’ UN says in wake of EU-Turkey deal”, Infra Endnote v.
[x] Baczynska, Gabriela, and Nebehay, Stephanie, Infra Endnote iv.
[xi] “UN and Red Cross scold world leaders over ‘conflict paralysis'”, October 31, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34690546. See also Lardner, Cynthia, “Closing Borders: A Crime Against Humanity”, November 2, 2015, as found on the www athttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/closing-borders-crime-against-humanity-cynthia-lardner; http://cml.gamesofthrones.us/2015/11/closed-borders-crime-against-humanity.html;https://cynthiamlardner.wordpress.com/2015/11/05/closing-borders-a-crime-against-humanity/; and http://cmlardner.blogspot.com/2015/11/closing-borders-crime-against-humanity.html.