29 January 2016

Returning asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey, as proposed by the Dutch government this week, violates European and international law. Such unlawful pushback policy is unacceptable and provides no sustainable solution in the long term, ECRE said in a statement today.

On 28 January, Dutch Labour Party leader Diederik Samsom told Volkskrant that the Dutch government, currently holding the EU presidency, planned to send asylum seekers arriving in Greece back to Turkey with ferries. This would work, according to him, if Turkey would be granted the status of ‘safe country’. “Then the return would be possible under the United Nations arrangements,” he said.

ECRE reminds that illegal pushbacks have firmly been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights. Even if a resettlement or humanitarian admission programme is welcome in principle, this cannot be conditional on preventing people from seeking asylum in Europe.

“Moreover, ECRE seriously questions whether Turkey could be indeed designated a “safe third country” for asylum seekers. Under Article 38 of the EU recast Asylum Procedures Directive the safe third country concept may only be applied where a number of safeguards are fulfilled, including respect for the principle of non-refoulement and the possibility to request and receive protection in accordance with the Geneva Refugee Convention. Turkey’s continued application of the geographical limitation to the scope of the Geneva Refugee Convention is problematic in this regard, as it means that only person coming from European countries can be recognised as Convention refugees in Turkey. Though the Law on Foreigners and International Protection provides for a status of “conditional refugee” to those coming from non-European countries, this status only allows a person to temporarily reside in Turkey, while awaiting for resettlement, while access to the labour market is not automatically guaranteed.”

ECRE also points out that a range of sources, including the AIDA report on Turkey, provide evidence to the fact that the current conditions do not ensure guarantees that the fundamental rights of migrants and refugees are respected in practice in Turkey. Amnesty International has reported that since September persons attempting to cross the Greek-Turkish land border have been detained. A Human Rights Watch report highlighted how Syrians are being denied entry to Turkey at the border and being pushed back to Syria.

In Turkey, most asylum seekers and refugees live in precarious conditions, including over 700,000 Syrian refugee children who have no access to school. Asylum seekers from other nationalities also face a largely dysfunctional asylum system under Turkey’s international protection procedure. Numerous barriers to state-funded legal aid, coupled with resource constraints on NGOs, leave asylum seekers without legal representation and advice.

“ECRE welcomes any initiative that aims at creating additional channels for refugees to access protection in the EU in a safe and legal manner as this is much needed as one of the means to reduce the loss of life at the EU’s external borders. However, trading off the creation of a resettlement programme from Turkey against an institutionalised unlawful push back policy is unacceptable and provides no sustainable solution in the long term. Rather EU Member States should invest in comprehensive solutions that effectively address the root causes of the conflict and increase the protection space in the region and in Europe by upholding international and EU standards,” the statement concludes.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 29 January 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.