In the framework of their campaign #StopTheToxicDeal RSA and PRO ASYL publish today their common statement against the toxic EU-Turkey “deal”.
A humanitarian disaster with an announcement
Two years on and the European Union (EU) is still celebrating the toxic refugee ‘deal’ with Turkey as a success. But what ‘works’ mainly about the ‘deal’ is not the number of returns to Turkey but the creation of suffering and misery for refugees stranded on the Greek islands that deter new arrivals.
Since 20 March 2016, dramatic images in the islands’ hotspots are shaping the public debate. Tents in the mud, dire reception conditions, deaths linked to the living conditions, attempted suicides and a significant impact upon the mental and physical health of refugees.
The geographic restriction imposed on refugees arriving on the Greek islands has produced a miserable reality for refugees living in the EU hotspots, stretched the limits of local societies and contributed significantly to xenophobic and racist responses.
Administrative and structural deficiencies as well as complex asylum “admissibility” procedures adopted to facilitate the implementation of the “refugee deal”, have been contributing factors to the intolerable human misery that is prevalent in the island refugee camps.
Reception conditions have never been appropriate and lack of safety is the norm including serious allegations such as sexual and gender based violence against women and girls.
The asylum process has often been problematic following the introduction of a fast-track border procedure, EASO’s (European Asylum Support Office) involvement and the problematic interpretation of the ‘safe third country’ concept. Given hotspots have functioned over the limit of their capacity, reality has imposed itself on national and European policy and as a result people rendered as vulnerable have been transferred to the mainland. The number and rate of transfers however remain a cause of concern as a large number of individuals continue to be trapped on the islands in degrading conditions.
This leads to the conclusion that the implementation of the EU-Turkey “deal” has created a filter that delays people while trapping them into an inhuman reality in order to produce a deterrence effect for refugees at the external borders of the European Union.
Meanwhile European and national authorities have struggled to keep this toxic “deal” alive politically and legally. They have insisted on this by utilising any means at their disposal and by demonstrating severe disregard for the rule of law and the EU asylum acquis itself.
National and European authorities have manipulated legal provisions and politicised the Greek asylum system to an intolerable extent in order to guarantee the viability of the deal. Indicators to this dynamic have been visible since very early on.
In June 2016, the then Greek Minister for Migration Policy proposed an amendment that would alter the composition of the Asylum Appeals Committees, after it had become evident that they were not willing to comply with pressures to produce inadmissible decisions and thus serve the momentum of the EU-Turkey deal. Following the change in the composition of the Committees and after the first inadmissible decisions were produced, refugee rights lawyers challenged the EU-Turkey ”deal before the Greek and European courts. During that time, the European and national authorities tried to create a dynamic in favour of the deal by manipulating diplomatic assurances and presenting them as guarantees that Turkey was prepared to conform to the requirements of the deal.
In April 2016, the Permanent Representative of Turkey had sent a letter to the Director-General for DG Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission where the former assured that Syrians returned to Turkey from Greece will have access to temporary protection. Another letter was send by Director-General of DG Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission to the Greek authorities in May 2016 with the purpose of facilitating the implementation of the ‘deal’. This kind of abstract letters were routinely presented as strong evidence that Turkey is a ‘safe third country’ while an increasing bulk of evidence from independent organisations has offered evidence to the contrary. UNHCR’s decision to stay silent about the violations of basic refugee rights in the name of EU-Turkey “deal” – especially given the present regime in Turkey – should not be immune from criticism.
In September 2017, Greece’s Highest Administrative Court confirmed the Appeals Committees’ findings on the case of two vulnerable Syrian asylum-seekers that Turkey is a ‘safe third country’ for them. The low number of individuals returned to Turkey so far (1554 by mid-February) – when compared to the damages it brought – raises questions about the success of the “deal”.
The supporters of the “deal” warn of the impact that another massive influx will have on the stability of the European Union and the lives of the refugees trapped already on the Greek islands. What they forget is that this ‘deal’ has already condemned thousands of people to misery, exposed vulnerable persons to risks and made the Greek islands de-facto prisons for thousands. It has also significantly undermined one of the greatest achievements of refugee protection – the Refugee Convention itself.
Refugee protection at the core of EU’s migration policy instead of deal!
Now, the misery and suffering of refugees on the Aegean islands – consciously brought about in the name of Europe – must end immediately.
Before more deaths occur, it must finally be made possible for all refugees to continue their journey to the Greek mainland. Time is of the essence!
However, a genuine European solution, after decent accommodation on the mainland, must include the swift opening up of safe and legal routes for refugees from Greece to Europe. It is very important that the more than five thousand stranded there must finally be granted their right to family reunification as soon as possible.
Since 20 March 2016, refugee protection in Greece has been marked by the toxic EU-Turkey “deal” that has as an aim to deter new arrivals on the Aegean islands. The implementation of the “deal” is based on the premise that Turkey is a “safe third country” despite important reports proving the opposite such as that of the Special Representative on Migration and Refugees. A series of diplomatic routes and controversial legal reforms in Greece as well as in Turkey aim to implement the “deal”.
18 March 2016 -
Announcement of the controversial EU-Turkey Statement (so-called “deal”) to be implemented immediately on 20 March 2016. According to the «deal», all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers arriving from Turkey to the Greek islands and whose applications for asylum have been declared inadmissible should be returned to Turkey
3 April 2016 -
Greece votes for new law 4375/2016 to facilitate the implementation of the “deal”. The new law establishes the new Reception and Identification Service, the Appeals’ Authority and the border procedure
4 April 2016 -
First returns from Greece to Turkey under the EU-Turkey “deal”. 202 people mostly from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Among them 13 who had explicitly expressed the will to apply for asylum in Greece.
*”It appears 13 [people] were on the boat who may have applied for asylum, and had registered their wish to do so two days ago….” Vincent Cochetel, Special Envoy of the UNHCR for the Mediterranean situation
7 April 2016 -
The Turkish government amends the “Temporary Protection Regulation” for Syrian nationals returned to Turkey under the “deal” so they can access temporary protection status after their return from Greece.
12 April 2016 -
“Diplomatic assurances” are provided by the Turkish Permanent Delegation in the EU to the Director-General for DG Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission. The Permanent Delegation assures that Syrians returning to Turkey from Greece will have access to the temporary protection status.
May 2016 -
First decisions issued by the Appeals Committees overturning the first instance rejection decision, considering Turkey as a non-safe third country for Syrians and practically overturning the implementation of the “Deal”.
4 May 2016 -
First critical UNHCR letter to the Director of the Greek Asylum Service. The letter states that Turkish legislation on the granting of temporary protection status provides for “a set of rights and measures of assistance” and that those returned under EU-Turkey “deal” – in light of the legislation and the Turkish diplomatic assurances – “should be able to obtain the temporal status”.
2 June 2016 -
First and only inadmissibility decisions by the Appeal Committees for two Syrian nationals belonging to vulnerable groups. The two asylum-seekers were immediately arrested and detained on Lesvos. They are the first at risk of forcible return since the implementation of the controversial “deal”. B.J. case is one of them.
9 June 2016 -
The European Council urges Greece to review the composition of the Appeals Committees and to inform the country’s judges that Turkey is safe for Syrian nationals.
17 June 2016 -
European Commission releases Second Progress Report on the implementation of the EU-Turkey “deal”. Greece is called to take specific urgent measures to increase its capacity to deal with the individual assessment of asylum applications and appeals and the resumption of transfers to Turkey in a more timely manner, notably through the use of the “safe third country” concept.
24 June 2016 -
Greek Parliament votes in favour of controversial amendment altering the composition of the independent Appeals Committees. Through the new Committees, systematic rejections of asylum claims as inadmissible will begin on the ground that Turkey is a safe country a clear clear attempt to speed up readmissions.
21 July 2016 -
Following the July 2016 attempted coup d’état, Turkey announces the temporary suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Turkey does not specify the ECHR provision suspended. At the same time, Turkey derogates from 13 articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) including those relating to humane treatment of detainees and the right to a remedy.
10 August 2016 -
Report of the fact-finding mission to Turkey by Tomáš Boček, Special Representative of the Council of Europe Secretary General on Migration and Refugees.
9 September 2016 -
Noori* a 20-year-old Syrian is the first to be informed about the rejection of his appeal by the new Appeals Committees. His asylum application was dismissed on the grounds that Turkey is a “safe third country” and he is placed under administrative detention on Lesvos. On 14 September the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court, issued an interim order halting his deportation. If his application of annulment is found unsuccessful, the young Syrian will be the first to be forcibly returned to Turkey on the premise that it is a “safe third country”.
6 October 2016 -
European Border and Coast Guard (EBCG) Agency is launched adding more flexibility and power to Frontex to deter refugees from seeking protection in Europe. Two months later (on 7 December 2016), the European Border Guard Agency launches a new rapid reaction pool of border guards and equipment consisted from 1,500 border guards. During crises at the EU external borders, Member State will immediately make these border guards available to the Agency.
29 October 2016 -
Issuance of two more controversial emergency decrees (KHK/675 and 676) by the Ministerial Council of the Turkish Government that introduce among others an amendment to the Law on Foreigners and International Protection. Under this amendment, it is possible to deport foreigners, even if they are asylum seekers, refugees or holders of a temporary status protection without a real remedy against the deportation decision based the allegation that they are “….members of terrorist organizations or organizations, groups that were listed by the National Security Council as acting against the security of the state”.
24 November 2016 -
A 66-year-old Kurdish woman and a 6-year-old boy burn alive in Moria refugee camp after a gas canister the woman used for cooking and to warm up explodes. The explosion leaves the child’s mother seriously injured. Major disturbances follow in the camp.
8 December 2016 -
8 December 2016: The European Commission releases Fourth Progress Report on the Implementation of the EU-Turkey “deal”. According to the Report, there is a need to speed up urgently the processing of asylum applications, in particular on the islands and to step up the pace of returns to Turkey under the “deal”.
The Report recommends the inclusion of vulnerable persons and persons eligible for family reunification through Dublin Regulation into the admissibility procedure on the islands and, thus, endangers them too, to be forcibly returned to Turkey.
14 December 2016 -
UNHCR sends an updated letter to the Greek Asylum Service. The letter contains a clear admittance that UNHCR does not have proper access to asylum-seekers returned to Turkey under the “deal”.
22 December 2016 -
100 people reported dead in the Mediterranean Sea, bringing the year total to 5,000. Τhe deaths highlight that flows now are taking more dangerous routes and make urgent the need for States to increase safe passages for admission of refugees.
19 January 2017 -
UNHCR, IOM and 72 other partners launched the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan to help respond to the situation of refugees and migrants in Europe in 2017.
24-30 January 2017 -
Four refugees die in Lesvos and Samos hotspots. Their deaths are related to winterization failures. Following this, the then Minister for Migration Policy states: ‘I hope that these deaths have made us all wiser’. So far, the causes of death have not been made public, no responsibility has been attributed and conditions in hotspots remain inadequate.
25 January 2017 -
European Commission proposes a number of additional measures/actions to strengthen EU plans along the central Mediterranean route with a focus on Libya the departure point for 90% of those seeking to travel to Europe by enhancing ongoing support to the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy.
27 January 2017 -
Turkey threatens to cancel EU-Turkey ‘deal’ following Greek Supreme Court’s decision rejecting extradition request for eight Turkish soldiers accused for being involved in the July 2016 attempted coup.
3 February 2017 -
Adoption of Malta Declaration during an informal meeting of EU Heads of States and Government addressing the Central Mediterranean route. The Declaration focuses on measures to ensure effective control of migration flows into the EU and receives heavy criticism. A day before, Italy and Libya signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding of Cooperation to address irregular migration, trafficking and contraband and support detention centers in Libya and strengthen the Libyan Coast Guard, ignoring the rights of migrants and refugees.
See also article critiquing the recent “deals”
28 February 2017 -
The Court of Justice of the European Union declares that it lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine the actions brought by three asylum seekers against the EU-Turkey Statement.
10 March 2017 -
Greece’s highest Administrative Court held a hearing to examine whether Turkey is a ‘safe third country of asylum’, as presumed by the EU-Turkey “deal”. The Court heard petitions by two Syrian asylum-seekers whose asylum claims were found inadmissible at on first and second instance examination and who therefore were at risk of being returned to Turkey under the “deal”.
15 March 2017 -
Germany to re-start sending back freshly-arrived asylum seekers to Greece and reinstatement of Dublin Regulation following a European Commission Recommendation in December 2016. Greece will start accepting the requests for returns under Dublin Regulation in August 2017. Transfers to Greece had been formally suspended by the German Ministry of Interior since January 2011.
25 March 2017 -
During a European Council informal gathering, the leaders of 27 Member States, of the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission adopt the Rome Declaration. Migration and asylum policy are included in the ‘safe and secure Europe’ overarching area of work.
28 March 2017 -
Greek Parliament votes in favour of another reform (L. 4461/2017) of the Greek Asylum Legislation (L.4375/2016) in order to implement the “deal”. According to the changes introduced, the Appeals’ Committees may be assisted by Assistant Rapporteurs provided by EASO.
1 April 2017 -
An extra bonus so-called Cash Grant of 500 euros is promised to rejected asylum seekers in Greece to prevent them from appealing. According to the joint IOM and Greece plan, the bonus will be paid out at the airport on the day of their departure. Rejected asylum seekers have five days to make decision: either they collect the 500-euro bonus – or they file an appeal against the rejection of their asylum claim.
25 April 2017 -
European Court of Auditors releases Special Report No 06/2017: EU response to the refugee crisis: the ‘hotspot’ approach. The report finds that despite considerable support from the EU, at the end of 2016 hotspots in both Greece and Italy were still not adequate.
8 May 2017 -
Greek Council of State Plenary rejects the applications lodged by Greek NGOs requesting the annulment of a Ministerial Decision on the new composition of the Appeals’ Committees under Law 4399/2016 and the relevant internal rules of procedure. The NGOs claimed that the presence of two magistrates in the three-member Appeals’ Committees was unconstitutional. The applications had been heard together with the applications of two Syrian asylum-seekers at risk of return to Turkey in March 2017.
18 May 2017 -
The European Court of Human Rights communicated the RSA case of B.J. (v. Greece) and has addressed the Greek government with specific questions. B.J., is a Syrian Christian refugee of Armenian origin. His case was one out of two cases that where the ‘former’ Appeals’ Committees held that Turkey was a ‘safe third country’ under the implementation of the EU-Turkey ‘deal’.
1 June 2017 -
European Ombudsman declares admissible a complaint by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights regarding practices by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) at hotspots in Greece.
27 June 2017 -
Τhe European Court of Human Rights granted interim measures under Rule 39 that halted the return of a Pakistani rejected asylum-seeker to Turkey, under the EU-Turkey “deal” until the examination of the application requesting the temporary suspension of his deportation by the competent Greek Administrative Court. The asylum-seeker was detained on Lesvos and is a member of the Ahmadi minority.
6 September 2017 -
European Commission publishes Seventh Report on the Progress made on the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement. Greece is asked to speed up urgently the processing of asylum applications and significantly increase the number of decisions per Appeal Committee, prioritising the appeals lodged on the islands. Greece is also urged το step up the pace of returns to Turkey under the ‘deal’ and ensure the pre-removal centers’ required capacity on all islands.
22 September 2017 -
Greek Council of State Plenary issues its verdicts on two cases and finds that Turkey can be considered a ‘safe third country’ for two Syrian asylum-seekers. The verdicts pave the way for forcible returns of Syrian asylum-seekers to Turkey under the “deal”. The rulings concerned two Syrian nationals who had appealed against the second-instance decisions confirming that Turkey is a ‘safe third country’ for them.
8 November 2017 -
First Syrian national whose claim was found inadmissible at second instance on the ground that Turkey is a “safe third country” is returned to Turkey. The refugee did not want to appeal to the courts against the rejection of his asylum claim or deportation as he had experienced many months of entrapment under inappropriate conditions on an Aegean island And the possibility of prolonged detention.
22 December 2017 -
UNHCR and Italian authorities evacuate for the first time 162 vulnerable refugees from Libya to Italy.
25 January 2018 -
ECtHR publishes its ruling on the case of J.R. and others v Greece. The case concerned the detention of three Afghan nationals in “Vial” hotspot on Chios following the implementation of the “deal”. The judgment attracted criticism by refugee rights NGOs regarding its findings. The Court did not find a breach of Article 5 (1) ECHR in relation to the claim that the applicants’ detention was unlawful. The Court also ruled that detention conditions did not attain the necessary gravity to be considered inhumane treatment. However, it found that there was a breach of Article 5 (2) in relation to the authorities’ failure to provide information on the grounds of the applicants’ detention and possibilities to challenge it.
1 February 2018 -
A court in Istanbul accepted the re-detention of Taner Kilic, Chair of Amnesty International Turkey, following a decision the day before by the Istanbul trial court to conditionally release him from pre-trial detention. Taner’s re-detention was as stated by the Secretary General of Amnesty International ‘…the latest example of the crisis in Turkey’s justice system that is ruining lives and hollowing out the right to a fair trial’.
14 March 2018 -
The European Commission publishes a report on progress made under the European Agenda on Migration until June 2018 and urges once more on the Greek authorities to accelerate work on improving returns under the ‘deal’, including through planned changes to the national asylum legislation.