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EU-Turkey Migration Plan Faces Fierce Opposition Across Europe


European leaders gather in Brussels tomorrow to finalize a plan to push migrants and refugees back to Turkey and then resettle some of them in European Union countries. But as Lauren Frayer reports, the plan is facing fierce opposition across the continent.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Chanting in foreign language).

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Verguenza, or shame on, Europe protesters chant in Madrid. There have been similar rallies in Athens, London and Berlin, as well as here in Brussels, in opposition to the EU-Turkey plan to halt the flow of migrants streaming into Europe.

The plan calls for all migrants who've arrived in Greece to be returned to Turkey. And then for every Syrian refugee pushed back, another would be resettled to the European Union. The idea is to discourage people from paying smugglers to sneak them into Europe. But many people oppose that one-to-one exchange.

SELMA ABU BAKRA: They're treating people like they were something to trade with.

FRAYER: Selma Abu Bakra is Spanish - an EU citizen - but her parents were Palestinian refugees.

BAKRA: We are here because we want our government to hear us. It needs to fight for the rights of these refugees.

FRAYER: Behind her, protesters chant that the EU-Turkey plan is illegal. And human rights groups generally agree.

ANDREW STROEHLEIN: It's immoral. It's a legal. It's unethical, and I think it's probably also impractical.

FRAYER: Andrew Stroehlein with Human Rights Watch says international treaties require that refugees be accommodated in safe countries, and he says Turkey doesn't qualify. Turkey would also get billions in EU money under the deal and move a step closer to joining the EU.

STROEHLEIN: Turkey has a very worrying human rights record. For the EU to throw money at Turkey and then just - we'll just kind of ignore all these other concerns - and then to use refugee as a bargaining chip - that's just appalling. It's inhuman.

FRAYER: I'm in the lobby of the European Parliament where activists recently unfurled a giant scroll with the names of hundreds of migrants who've drowned trying to reach Europe. EU lawmakers had to walk over their names to get into the chamber.

LIZ COLLETT: It's very, very easy when you're thinking about systemic changes and how to reform a system to forget about the human, the individual.

FRAYER: Liz Collett directs the independent Migration Policy Institute in Europe. She says EU leaders are under pressure from all sides to do the right thing by desperate refugees but also to do what their constituents want.

COLLETT: And many people go into that room saying I have to speak for my citizens. And my citizens feel differently about this.

FRAYER: And there have been rival protests too...


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Chanting in foreign language).

FRAYER: ...Like in the German city of Dresden yesterday by people who say Europe can't accommodate any more refugees. Far-right anti-immigrant parties are gaining power in Germany, Slovakia, Hungary. Over in Britain, people will vote in June on whether to exit the EU, and the migration crisis is a big part of that debate.

Spain, Portugal and Cyprus all threatened to veto the EU-Turkey deal. It seems the only thing anyone can agree on here in Brussels is that European leaders are in for some very long nights of negotiations. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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