01 April 2016. ECRE joins the calls for an immediate halt to the return of refugees from Greece to Turkey, scheduled to happen on 4 April. Opposition to implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement is mounting across Europe, following reports by Amnesty International detailing the illegal practices already taking place. Today, the organisation published evidence of large-scale forced returns, including of children, from Turkey to war-torn Syria, an action illegal under Turkish, EU and international law. Last week, the organisation documented the forcible return to Kabul of around 30 Afghan asylum seekers, who were denied access to asylum procedures.

These developments support ECRE’s view that the examination of asylum claims cannot be based on the assumption that Turkey is a safe third country. Among other problems, Turkey does not comply with the criteria listed in Article 38 of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive which require that applicants must be protected from refoulement. The same article requires that for a country to be designated as “safe” it must be possible for asylum seekers to request and receive protection in accordance with the 1951 Refugee Convention, however Turkey imposes a geographic limitation in its application of the Convention such that only persons fleeing events occurring in Europe can obtain refugee status. Turkey has granted temporary protection to more than two million Syrians, but Afghans, Iraqis and other nationalities are often unable to access effective protection.

ECRE has raised concerns about the EU-Turkey deal from the outset, expressing its view that the deal is unethical, illegal and unworkable. The EU is outsourcing its responsibilities to protect refugees to Turkey, an immoral move which allows it to circumvent its obligations under international European asylum and human rights law.  

While the deal requires an individual assessment and access to an effective remedy for those claiming international protection, it is clear that this is not yet provided in Greece. Today, UNHCR provided an assessment of the poor conditions in which people are being hosted pending decisions on return to Turkey. The cases described include people sleeping in the open, families separated, and little assistance for people with special needs. 

“In Greece, an effective remedy is not yet available as the Appeals Committees have not operated since September 2015 and access to legal assistance is almost non-existent on the islands. This deal is legally and morally wrong and will not turn Turkey into a safe country. The EU should invest time and energy in large scale resettlement, implementing relocation, and support for Greece instead of short-sighted containment strategies,” said ECRE’s Secretary General Catherine Woollard.

If people are returned to Turkey next week, the EU Member States will be complicit in the endangerment of hundreds of people.


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Rita Carvalho