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Joint Press Release

Hearing before the Court of Justice of the European Union on Thursday 14 March on the preliminary questions of the Greek Council of State regarding Turkey as a "safe third country"

Court of Justice of the European Union

Tomorrow, Thursday, 14 March 2024, the preliminary questions referred by the Plenary of the Council of State in its judgment No 177/2023 concerning the inclusion of Turkey in the national list of “safe third countries” (JMD 42799/2021) will be discussed in an oral hearing before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg (see here and here).  This decision of the Council of State was issued following a request for annulment by the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) against the above-mentioned Joint Ministerial Decision, which designated Turkey as a safe third country for asylum seekers and applicants from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The organisations will appear before the CJEU in Luxembourg, through their legal representatives.

We recall that, according to the opinion of the majority of the Council of State, the above JMD should be annulled. According to this opinion, the fact that Turkey refuses to readmit refugees as of 2020, does not allow it to be classified as a safe third country in a general way. At the same time, it does not appear that Greece has investigated whether this refusal by Turkey will change in the near future.

It should be noted that the application of the above characterisation entails the rejection of asylum applications as inadmissible by the competent Greek authorities, thus placing thousands of asylum seekers, who are not accepted by Turkey, in a precarious status, without documents, under conditions of social exclusion, economic exhaustion, homelessness, with the risk of even prolonged detention in our country (indicatively, see UNHCR statements here and here). In fact, as provided for by a provision of the relevant directive, and as has been pointed out in relevant interventions by the Ombudsman, but also by the Commissioner for Home Affairs and Migration of the European Commission, non-readmission entails the obligation to review the substance of the applications, pursuant to the provisions of EU and national law.

We underline that the inclusion of Turkey in the national list of “safe third countries” practically consolidates the policy of abdication of responsibility for the protection of refugees in Europe, in the framework already set by the implementation of the EU-Turkey Joint Declaration in March 2016.

This policy has turned the Greek islands, for many years now, into a place of confinement for thousands of persecuted people, with the aim of facilitating their return to third countries. It has also given birth to European symbols of shame, such as Moria. However, the solution cannot be the return of displaced persons to Turkey. Turkey does not provide the international protection of the 1951 Geneva Convention to persons applying for international protection coming from non-European countries, and as of March 2021 it announced that it is withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention and therefore will no longer protect victims of gender-based violence who are at risk of return based on the JMD. It should be stressed that a number of reports have sounded the alarm over the years regarding pushbacks of refugees from Turkey, even to war zones in Syria (see relevant material from ECRE, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch).

Finally, we point out that the ‘externalisation’ of the procedure for examining applications for international protection, which is already pursued by the European Union’s impending Pact on Migration and Asylum, through the application of the concept of safe third country, “simply shifts asylum responsibilities elsewhere and evades international obligations”, according to the UNHCR.

We call once again on the Greek and European authorities to respect the responsibility of protecting refugees, in order to avoid the further slippage of the European acquis on asylum and the fundamental principles and values of human rights protection.

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