Thousands of cases dismissed as inadmissible on “safe third country” grounds in 2022 – situation for refugees in Türkiye is worsening. As the government reports a significant decrease of asylum seekers residing in Greece, reports and critique of systematic pushbacks continue to mount.

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) has released an analysis of the main trends in refugee protection in Greece in 2022 based on responses to parliamentary questions and monthly reports by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum. The Asylum Service (first instance) dismissed 3,601 applications as inadmissible on “safe third country” grounds and 4,144 as inadmissible subsequent claims. Appeals Committees (second instance) dismissed 2,747 applications inadmissible on “safe third country” grounds and 2,089 as inadmissible subsequent claims. According to RSA: “the main countries of origin of applicants include all nationalities for which Türkiye has been designated as a “safe third country” based on a national list (JMD 42799/2021), under a presumption of inadmissibility”. Meanwhile, the dire situation for refugees in Türkiye continues to worsen. In the run-up to the upcoming election, both the sitting president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the main opposition candidate have promised to return hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and talks to restore diplomatic ties between the neighbouring countries began on 3 April in Russia. “We are heading towards Turkish elections and the refugee question overall is an item in Turkish polls. The government hopes that it can send back at least a fraction of the refugees in Turkey through these talks”, said Galip Dalay, a Turkey analyst at Chatham House. Dalay further noted that for Erdogan’s government, it “gives the image of taking this issue seriously as demanded by the popular level”. Turkish media reported in early April of more than 1300 “irregular migrants” being intercepted across the country “in recent days” in an operation involving some 33,401 personnel. Reportedly, nearly 2,600 irregular migrants were intercepted and more than 1,700 were deported from March 24 to March 30. According to the government, 26,000 irregular migrants were deported during the first three months of 2023. According to data from Eurostat, also Turkish nationals are increasingly seeking protection. 2022 marked a 145 per cent increase in the number of asylum applications filed by Turkish nationals in EU countries with a total of 49,720. Meanwhile, Greek minister of defense, Nikos Panagiotopoulos has conducted a rare visit to his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar. Minister Akar expressed the “hope and expectation” that the “positive, constructive atmosphere we experienced after the earthquake disaster will continue … and the doors of dialogue will remain open”.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) recently granted interim measures in a case involving seven Turkish nationals including a child who crossed to Greece and were in fear of being pushed back. Human Rights Assistance Project stated: “As a result of our application for interim measures to the ECtHR on behalf of the applicants, ECtHR accepted the applications and to indicate to the Government of Greece that until further notice the applicants should not be removed”. Meanwhile, the Greek government is planning to extend the border fence in the Evros region currently covering 37.5 kilometers by another 35 kilometers over the next 12 months and add an additional 100 kilometers by 2026. Greek Minister of Civil Protection, Takis Theodorikakos stated: “The entire Greek-Turkish border will gradually be covered while all the electronic monitoring systems will be upgraded. This is a project whose cost has been foreseen by the Budget, but with actions of the Prime Minister, funding is also sought from the EU”. According to the government, the fence has functioned as an effective deterrent against “illegal migration”, preventing more than 250,000 crossings at the land border last year.

The Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum reported a 53 per cent decrease in asylum seekers residing in Greece from a total of 29,071 in February 2022 to 13,798 in February 2023. “A steady downward trend” despite an uptick in arrivals over the first months of 2023. According to Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi: “The government has implemented a strict but fair immigration policy since 2019. We reduced the flows by 90%…”. Meanwhile, the critique and reports of systematic pushbacks by Greek authorities continue. On 27 March, the Aegean Boat Report published a report on the pushback by the Hellenic Coast Guard of 59 people from Greek waters off Crete. ECRE member, Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and the Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR) recently addressed a joint letter to the UN, Council of Europe and EU officials, stating: “Practices of irregular forced returns (henceforth “pushbacks”) by the Greek authorities, particularly at the land borders of Evros, have been documented for decades, including by the signatory CSOs. Yet what we have been witnessing since March 2020, in the aftermath of the well-known (“instrumentalisation”) incident at the Evros border, is a complete paradigm shift or, as has been noted on more than one occasion, a “de facto policy” that has been characterised by an unprecedented escalation of pushback practices throughout the country”. On 30 March, the Council of Europe anti-torture Committee (CPT) called on “European states to put an end to unlawful pushback practices and the ill-treatment of foreign nationals deprived of their liberty in the context of forced removals at borders”. ECRE member Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid noted in a comment: “given the numerous reports of pushbacks on the Greek border, this is yet another call on Greece to respect its Human Rights obligations”. CPT further stated: “Foreign nationals detained under immigration legislation are often held – and sometimes for protracted periods – in conditions of detention which could be described as amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment”. An RSA report on Immigration detention in 2022 reveals a “sharp rise in detention orders”. According to the report: “The Hellenic Police issued a total of 30,631 detention orders in 2022, a 46% increase from 21,044 detention orders in 2021. Specifically, detention orders rose by 8% in return procedures, and by 55% in deportation procedures conducted by way of derogation from the Return Directive. A striking 697% increase was recorded in asylum detention orders”.

In a new report ECRE member, PRO ASYL and RSA point to “Systemic deficiencies in the access of beneficiaries of international protection to documents and socio-economic rights”. “While the European Commission decided in early 2023 to launch infringement proceedings against Greece for poor transposition of EU law, and countries such as Germany and the Netherlands have opposed the deportation of beneficiaries of international protection to Greece, except in exceptional cases, people are still returned in the country without any support, information or documents in force”, say the organisations. The report also describes difficulties in obtaining a residence permit (ADET) due to “administrative barriers, and slow processing times” leaving refugees without access social benefits, health care, the labour market, and legal representation. Further, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) published a ruling on 4 April – concerning the living conditions in the Samos Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) for a pregnant woman. According to a press release from I Have Rights: “The Court unanimously found that Greece had violated the prohibition of torture, inhumane and degrading treatment (Article 3 of the Convention) by forcing the applicant to live in unbearable conditions in the “hotspot” on Samos and awarded her a compensation of 5000 Euro”. ECRE ELENA coordinator for Greece and representative of the applicant, Yiota Massouridou commented: “Once more the European Court of Human Rights confirms that the externalisation of Europe’s migration policies causes serious human rights violations and betrays European core values. This case is emblematic for the suffering inflicted on thousands of people in the hotspots,” continuing: “Greece authorities have put the live of the pregnant applicant at risk and violated the prohibition of torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, as well as internationally recognised reproductive rights of the woman”.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.