8 April 2016

Amid growing civil society unrest, the EU-Turkey Agreement was adopted at the European Council meeting on 18 March 2016. Following its implementation, questions were raised about its compliance with international and EU human rights and refugee law, just as predicted by many civil society organisations, including ECRE.   

On 4 April, the two processes foreseen in the Agreement started simultaneously; 202 people were returned to Dikili in Turkey from Lesvos and Chios, while on the same day 43 people were resettled from Turkey to Germany and Finland. Among the first 202 people returned, 13 wished to claim asylum in Greece, according to UNHCR’s Director of Europe Bureau. They were unable to register their asylum claims as a result of the administrative chaos on the islands. In a more recent and yet more worrying development, Turkey has allegedly detained those people and has announced its intention to deport them back to their home countries (ranging from Afghanistan to DRC), according to media reports.  

In order to implement the EU-Turkey Agreement, some reception centres on the Greek islands were transformed into closed detention camps. Amnesty International released a statement this week highlighting the detention centres’ “appalling conditions” in Lesvos and Chios, where thousands of refugees and migrants are being held, including vulnerable people, such as babies and people with disabilities. “People detained on Lesvos and Chios have virtually no access to legal aid, limited access to services and support, and hardly any information about their current status or possible fate. The fear and desperation are palpable,” said Gauri van Gulik, Deputy Director for Europe at Amnesty International. According to media reports, asylum seekers have threatened to commit suicide if they were to be returned to Turkey.

Various human rights organisations continue calling for a halt to the deportations, given the risks that asylum seekers face in Turkey and the risk of onward refoulement. ECRE member ASGI, called the deal illegal and urged UNHCR not to participate in admissibility procedures by claimants arriving from Turkey in Greece. “Such an assessment concerning inadmissibility represents a waiting room for collective refoulement and UNHCR cannot and must not legitimate such an operation,” ASGI claims.

The Norwegian Refugee Council warns that this deal may push people to take even more dangerous routes, including from Libya to Italy or across the Black Sea. In fact, the Italian Coast Guard has announced this week that a boat carrying over 300 people, including around 100 children, from Egypt to Italy was rescued.

Early on Friday 8 April, deportations continued; 150 people from Lesvos, Samos and Kos were brought back to Turkey, amid protests staged by locals who tried to prevent the boats from leaving.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 8 April 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.