22 April 2016
Earlier this week, the European Commission published its first report on the progress on the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal. The report indicated that “the sharp decrease in the number of irregular migrants and asylum seekers crossing from Turkey into Greece not only proves its effectiveness but also that the business model of smugglers can be broken”. This statement was seen as particularly shocking as it came out in the same week as reports emerged of the death of 500 people after a boat capsized at an unknown location between Libya and Italy. Many organisations, including ECRE, stated that the deal will only result in opening new and more dangerous routes, with the side effect that organised criminal networks flourish, and forces people back to Turkey where they face uncertain and unsafe conditions.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented a number of irregularities and human rights violations in the first deportations that took place under the deal. Through interviews with family and friends of those deported from the Greek island of Chios to Turkey, HRW reported that people were not informed about their deportation, nor the place they were being deported to. They were not allowed to bring their belongings (clothes, medicines, food, cellphone).
At the moment, UNHCR and NGOs are being denied access to the site where the returned people are being held by the Turkish authorities. ECRE’s Turkish member, Multeci-Der, tried meeting with the people returned in order to offer free legal aid and inform people about their right to seek asylum, however, their request to access to removal centre was denied. Preventing lawyers from meeting with the detainees without any legal basis, violates national and European law, the organisation argues.
After hearings with President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) raised serious human rights concerns about the deal and called for a halt on the return of people to Turkey. “The deal at best strains and at worst exceeds the limits of what is permissible under European and international law,” said rapporteur Tineke Strik. “Even on paper, it raises many serious questions of compatibility with basic norms on refugees’ and migrants’ rights. It has so far given every indication of being even more problematic in practice.”
On the Greek side, there are an increasing number of reports about the deplorable conditions in the hotspots, where even children are being detained. The Norwegian Refugee Council confirmed that mothers are not being given appropriate amounts of food to feed their babies, only receiving a quarter of the recommended daily intake of baby formula.