Brussels, 29 January 2016. ECRE is concerned about the Dutch government’s proposal to return all those arriving in Greece back to Turkey without access to asylum procedures, in exchange for a large scale resettlement programme. While the concrete modalities remain unclear, a key feature of the plan would reportedly be based on designating Turkey a “safe third country”.
Returning asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey without prior individualised assessment of protection needs violates European and international law, as it essentially amounts to illegal pushbacks, which have been firmly 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.
A range of sources, including the AIDA report on Turkey, provide evidence to the fact that the current conditions do no ensure guarantees that the fundamental rights of migrants and refugees are respected in practice in Turkey.
First, while persons fleeing Syria are granted temporary protection status, Syrians have been at risk of refoulement and arbitrary detention without any legal basis. Amnesty International has reported that since September persons attempting to cross the Greek-Turkish land border have been detained, many herd onto buses and transported more than 1,000 kilometres to isolated detention centres where they have been held incommunicado. A Human Rights Watch report highlighted how Syrians are being denied entry to Turkey at the border and being pushed back to Syria.
Temporary protection beneficiaries do not have automatic access to shelter. Few are hosted in camps (“temporary accommodation centres”), while the vast majority currently resides in major cities without support.
Access to the labour market for Syrians was formalised under the recent Decision taken in January 2016, but is yet to be ensured in practical terms. Constrained by language barriers and limited right to work, most asylum seekers and refugees live in precarious conditions, including over 700,000 Syrian refugee children who have no access to school.
Second, asylum seekers from other nationalities face a largely dysfunctional asylum system under Turkey’s international protection procedure. Iraqi nationals in particular face a complex procedural framework, some being registered as “international protection applicants” and others as “humanitarian residence holders”, without being properly informed of the differences between the two options. Despite recent reforms, the Directorate General for Migration Management is still in the early stages of building the necessary capacities to implement the Law on Foreigners and International Protection. Numerous barriers to state-funded legal aid, coupled with resource constraints on NGOs, leave asylum seekers without legal representation and advice.
Finally, in the context of EU-Turkey Action Plan, Turkey and the EU agreed on re-purposing five planned reception centres in Izmir, Kırklareli, Gaziantep, Kayseri and Van to become pre-removal detention centres. Detention capacity is increasing substantially, while reception capacity for applicants – currently at a maximum of 100 places – has not. All this is taking place in an increasingly hostile climate for human rights protection in the country, for foreigners as well as the country’s own citizens.
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.
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