The Statement / “Deal” of the Heads of European Union (EU) Member States and Turkey represents an institutional deviation, five years after its signature. Its aim was and continues to be the unconditional and out-of-bounds exclusion of refugees from access to EU territory and from the protection to which they are entitled.
This institutional deviation disregards the value of human beings. This core European value has been trampled by policies preventing entry into EU territory of people at risk who seek its protection. It also rests upon the establishment of a state of derogation from the rule of law which puts thousands of refugees at risk, pushes local communities to dangerous extremism and xenophobia, violates basic human rights and undermines fundamental legal and democratic principles.
This institutional deviation must end immediately.
The main ‘qualitative’ feature of the “EU-Turkey deal” is a shameful and dangerous perversion of historical reality: since EU countries can neither derogate from nor suspend their international and EU law obligation to prevent refoulement, the deal comes as a cynical and hypocritical attempt to circumvent said duty through an indirect, yet clear, declaration of Turkey as a safe country for refugees, whereas:
- Turkey is not fully bound by the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol on Refugees, as it has ratified the Convention subject to a geographical limitation against non-European asylum seekers. Accordingly, non-European refugees in Turkey, namely Syrians who are provocatively portrayed as “returnable” in the “deal”, do not fall within the scope of international protection pursuant to the Geneva Refugee Convention but to a special temporary protection regime which does not reflect an international commitment.
- Official reports and established case law from international courts and institutions prove systematic and long-lasting flagrant violations of human rights and the rule of law in Turkey: torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, lack of independent and impartial judiciary, political arbitrariness, impunity, deprivation of civil liberties, abductions etc. Nevertheless, EU insists on perceiving Turkey as a “safe third country” even in light of the official dismantling of basic democratic rights within the country after a coup attempt in July 2016.
- Selling the deal as a success is shameful. Its implementation has produced tens of thousands of sufferings on the Greek islands.
- Preserving the refugee deal with Turkey at all costs has also led Europe to remain largely inactive in the face of blatant human rights abuses under the Erdogan regime.
- The “EU-Turkey deal” was agreed under bargaining terms contrary to human dignity, culminating in provisions on trading of people (!), where “for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU”.
The “EU-Turkey deal” served as the culmination of a series of restrictive measures, notably the closure of the “Balkan route” in March 2016 following the entry of a large number of refugees from mid-2015 into Central and Northern European countries. The “EU-Turkey deal” was presented as “a compromise” towards the extreme deterrence policies promoted by the Visegrad countries, even though in fact the “Deal” was affected by their xenophobic and racist rhetoric and has contributed to a regression of principles. (also disregarded the largely satisfactory management of said state emergency by most EU countries and the positive response of their societies to the ubiquitous right of human beings to seek and obtain protection. Refugees in 2015 demanded and de facto obtained this very right, bestowed upon them by law, in spite of artificial barriers, risks and hardship. In this respect, in addition to its other problematic elements, the “EU Turkey” reversed the wave of solidarity and acceptance of refugees and turned them into undesirable personae non gratae in Europe, responsible for disruption of public order – the “deal” professes a restoration thereof, along with hypocritical concern for human suffering. In essence, the “EU-Turkey deal” has instrumentalised fear by fuelling racism and xenophobia.
Five years after its launch, implementation of the “EU-Turkey deal” remains sluggish on many of its essential aspects, inter alia the return of large numbers of people from Greece to Turkey. It has, however, succeeded in delivering its logic of refoulement, return or readmission at any cost, and of treating asylum seekers, refugees, as returnable aliens through further lowering of even basic safeguards for their return. Against the same political backdrop, allegations of unlawful push backs are increasing, referring to “unlawful returns without respect for formal procedures, including non-registration of those arrested, denial of access to asylum procedures and arbitrary abduction, detention and mass deportation of those attempting to enter the country… but also occasionally apprehended in mainland controls, as well as complaints of deterrence practices at sea, and even arbitrary deportations of persons who had landed in Greek coasts…”
Furthermore, the “EU-Turkey deal” undermines Greek asylum policy by subjecting it to return policy, at a disastrous cost for the lives of thousands of refugees and for the rule of law. The “deal” also bears “toxic” impact on local communities on the island, where xenophobic and racist reactions are incited due to pressing conditions of deadlock.
- The unreasonable containment of a large number of asylum seekers on the Eastern Aegean islands under conditions incompatible with international and EU standards generates conflictual and dangerous conditions, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year. The problematic situation suffered by thousands of refugees in Moria, Lesvos became a nightmare following the destruction of the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) of Moria by fires, coupled with unacceptable living conditions for thousands in the wholly unsuitable new camp in Kara Tepe, are illustrative of the tragic living conditions facing refugees on the islands. Beyond the lack of dignified accommodation, other rights of asylum seekers such as access to appropriate medical care, employment and education of minors are also flagrantly and systematically flouted, depriving them of any integration prospect.
- The enactment of “fast-track” asylum procedures undermining fair and efficient processing of asylum applications, not least through the use of the “safe third country” concept, exacerbates already problematic procedures and violates basic rule of law principles with a view to excluding refugees from protection and to placing them in deportation proceedings. An exceptional border procedure has been applied by way of derogation on the Eastern Aegean islands over the past five years, regardless of conditions and numbers of arrivals, and in violation of basic procedural safeguards. The dismantlement of crucial guarantees in 2019-2020, including the enactment of non-suspensive asylum appeals, of restrictions on the exemption of vulnerable persons from the border procedure, of extremely truncated deadlines, and the expansion of detention expose even acutely vulnerable refugees e.g. victims of violence and torture, unaccompanied minors to immediate risk and to destitution. More worrying developments are expected in light of the government’s announcement of the replacement of reception facilities on the islands by “closed centres” as a core pillar of the country’s reception and asylum policy.
Whereas, all EU countries are bound by commitments to respect the principle of non-refoulement and the rule of law, enshrined in the 1951 Geneva Convention and the 1967 New York Protocol, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture (CAT), the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Whereas, the principle of non-refoulement and the rule of law are flagrantly violated by the “EU-Turkey deal” and its effects and/or accompanying measures.
Whereas, primarily, for those reasons, Turkey is neither a “safe country of origin” nor a “safe third country”.
Whereas, declarations by EU institutions relating to “update” and/or “improvement” and/or conclusion of a new “EU-Turkey deal” cause even greater distress and fear among refugees at risk. Moreover, carrying such processes with an interlocutor such as Erdoğan, known for systematically instrumentalising refugees at any human cost, as consistently highlighted by the Greek authorities, is highly contradictory and dangerous. In this regard, a serious bad precedent was set for modern European history in 2020 through a double instrumentalisation of refugees: people were as an “enemy army” by Greece and the EU through a fully military response and an unprecedented and clearly unlawful “suspension” of the Refugee Convention.
Whereas, the backsliding and violation of foundational European values cannot continue.
- The “EU-Turkey deal” must be abolished. The EU must pursue radically different policies to the simplistic and dead-end approach of deterrence and militarisation of external borders. Policies that are realistic, lawful and apt to provide a substantive response to the plight of refugees based on respect for human life, liberty, dignity and solidarity between societies and states in the EU and neighbouring countries.
- Compliance with the principle of non-refoulement at land or sea is a non-negotiable obligation. Unlawful push back policies putting human lives at risk in Evros and the Greek sea borders must stop. Rescue and protection of people are the highest form of human obligation.
- Securing safe channels is possible. A permanent, large-scale resettlement mechanism in the EU from third countries under pressure due to large refugee populations, free of unacceptable terms and conditions, is a realistic and humane solution. A European Union of over 500 million people can and should welcome refugees. Importantly, the EU demands refugee protection of third countries which often alone receive more refugees than EU countries combined.
- A permanent, large-scale relocation mechanism must be established and maintained between EU Member States. A coalition of willing states and hundreds of welcoming cities and regions in Europe must organise this urgent needed refugee admission program from Greece. This solidarity mechanism must put the needs of refugees at its core.
- The situation in so-called “reception centres” / hotspots on the islands threatens human lives. Preventing a total collapse of human rights requires immediate phasing out of the geographical restriction, transfer of asylum seekers to suitable conditions on the mainland and roll-out of relocation procedures for the most vulnerable, in order to allow time for the Greek reception system to be reinforced.
- Greek reception and asylum policy must radically change to protect basic principles of international protection and the rule law, currently systematically violated in Greece with disastrous repercussions for human lives.
- Finally, the proposals of the “New Pact on Migration and Asylum” and the accompanying package of legislative proposals are old ‘recipes’ with dangerous ingredients. They codify derogations from legality and seriously undermine the rule of law and the rights of refugees. They must be revisited, reviewed in depth and radically amended in the direction of ensuring functioning asylum procedures, dignified reception conditions and solidarity between EU Member States as well as other countries, and primordially of treating refugees and migrants under the terms of equality and the rule of law which are all too seriously violated.
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- European Council, EU-Turkey Statement, 18 March 2016, available at: https://bit.ly/3egCHQl. ↑
- RSA et al., Joint statement on push backs practices in Greece, 15 February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/2OcQ09N; ‘Κοινή δήλωση 6 οργανώσεων σχετικά με τις πρακτικές των παράνομων επαναπροωθήσεων στην Ελλάδα’, 15 February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3v7B3X2. See also European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, ‘Council of Europe’s anti-torture Committee calls on Greece to reform its immigration detention system and stop pushbacks’, 19 November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3kZr95d. ↑
- RSA, ‘Moria 2.0: Trapped refugees at the mercy of winter’, 1 December 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3v563Hl; RSA et al., ‘Σταματήστε να παίζετε με τις ζωές ανθρώπων: επείγει η διασφάλιση της υγείας φιλοξενουμένων και εργαζομένων στο ΚΥΤ της Λέσβου’, 26 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3c4Cdda. ↑
- UNHCR, ‘The majority of children refugees on the Greek islands do not go to school’, 29 August 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3bc9sdm. ↑
- RSA et al., ‘Σοβαρές ενστάσεις των νομικών οργανώσεων σχετικά με την έλλειψη δωρεάν νομικής συνδρομής στους/στις αιτούντες/ούσες άσυλο στη Λέσβο’, 13 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3tcHnLt. ↑
- RSA, Comments on the International Protection Bill, 21 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3btYgey; Comments on the Reform of the International Protection Act, 23 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2MYwNrV. ↑
- RSA, PRO ASYL and MSF, ‘Border procedures on the Greek islands violate asylum seekers’ right to special procedural guarantees’, 15 February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3v2YC3j. ↑
- Euronews, ‘Ν. Μηταράκης: Το πλάνο για τα κλειστά κέντρα στα νησιά’, 10 July 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3qrt03S. ↑
- According to a statement by the Alternate Minister of Migration and Asylum, in March 2020 “an undemocratic regime effectively announced that they were going to use these desperate people in order to achieve their geostrategic and geopolitical goals”: European Parliament, LIBE Committee meeting, 6 July 2020, available: https://bit.ly/3qrtKpG. ↑
- RSA, Rights denied during Greek asylum procedure suspension, April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3v8yF2j. ↑
- “We cannot respond to refugee crises by closing doors and building fences. The world must show solidarity and share this responsibility”: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, 30 March 2016, available at: https://bit.ly/2Oyy5Ku. Statistics: Refugees from Syria: 3,655,067 in Turkey; 865,531 in Lebanon; 663,507 in Jordan; 243,121 in Iraq: Syria Regional Refugee Response, available at: https://bit.ly/3bws6PD. “More than 5.6 million people have fled Syria since 2011, seeking security in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and beyond… Millions of Syrians have fled across the border, fleeing bombs and bullets that destroyed their homes. Turkey hosts the largest number of registered Syrian refugees – currently 3.6 million… In Lebanon, life is a daily struggle for more than one million Syrian refugees, who have little or no financial resources. About 70% live below the poverty line.” ↑