Three illustrative stories of refugees who experienced the tragic consequences of the implementation of the “deal” at any cost remind us that human rights are trampled every day in the Reception and Identification Centres of the Aegean islands.
J.B. is a Syrian Christian man of Armenian origin who arrived on the island of Lesvos 47 days after the launch of the EU-Turkey deal. His case was one of the first asylum claims rejected as inadmissible at both first and second instance based on the “safe third country” concept under the EU-Turkey deal. Up until that point, Appeals Committees were overturning Asylum Service decisions on the ground that Turkey did not fulfil the “safe third country” criteria. After the rejection of his claim, J.B. was held for fifty days in Mytilene Police Station under degrading conditions.
His case, represented by RSA lawyers, was the first to reach the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) relating to the compatibility of Greece’s use of the “safe third country” concept with the principle of non-refoulement. J.B. v. Greece was communicated in May 2017 and is still pending before the Court.
At the domestic level, his application for judicial review of the negative asylum decision was rejected by the Administrative Court of Appeal of Piraeus in May 2017, which upheld the applicability of the “safe third country” concept. An appeal against said decision is still pending before the Council of State at the time of writing.
Five years on, judicial protection against severe violations of J.B.’s human rights and poor-quality decision-making in his case is yet to be delivered by national and international courts. Like him, thousands of refugees continue to suffer from the consequences of the EU-Turkey deal on the Greek asylum system.
‘Ι am married. I married my husband in 2015. This is the truth!’ cried Sarah and the cry echoed on the phone.
Sarah* is a young woman from Syria held for more than 15 months in administrative detention. Sarah grew into maturity in between the devastating effects of the Syrian conflict. She left home in 2019 with the aim to seek protection and join Atef, her husband, who has been granted refugee status in Germany. The couple got married in 2015. Sarah got pregnant at that time but later suffered a miscarriage. Then, Atef was forced to flee Syria to escape personal persecution. Sarah had to stay behind. No one else could take care of her mother since her father had gone missing during the first days of the conflict and the suppression of the opponents by the regime.
In 2019 Sarah could not cope in Syria anymore. Hopeful that she could leave all gruesome experiences of the ongoing conflict behind her and meet her husband again, she crossed to Turkey. There, she was arrested and held in immigration detention several times. Every time she was given a notice to depart from the country. She was even told that as a woman alone- without her husband- she was not allowed to apply for legal documents. After suffering assault by her smugglers -in an attempt to blackmail her husband- Sarah finally managed to enter Greece and seek asylum.
No better was the treatment awaiting her in Greece. Sarah is, until today (almost 16 months after her arrival) detained in Kos Pre-Removal Centre, experiencing enormous psychological pressure and receiving pharmaceutical treatment for her mental health problems.
Kos Pre-Removal Centre is one of the immigration detention centres in Greece where systematic detention continues to take place despite the escalating COVID-19 pandemic and serious gaps in the medical care of the detainees and in the prevention of health risks. Since the end of 2019, authorities in Kos implement a blanket detention policy for all new arrivals. Following the issuance of standardised deportation and detention orders, authorities subject everyone, with the exception of persons manifestly falling under vulnerability categories, to detention, without any individualised assessment of the grounds for detention. Kos Pre-Removal Centre also detains applicants arriving from nearby islands such as Symi, Kastellorizo. These individuals are immediately directed to the Pre-Removal Centre without undergoing any reception and identification procedures in the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC).Consequently, authorities keep extending the duration of the detention without sufficient justification. Regrettably, appeals challenging detention orders before the competent Administrative Court have not been successful. In the appeals submitted by RSA, the Court failed to conduct an adequate assessment of the lawfulness of the detention order and of the grounds for maintaining individuals in detention, the necessity and proportionality thereof. The Court solely referred to the “risk of absconding”, which they deem to be established where applicants fail to provide evidence of a stable residence address,despite the fact it is incumbent on the state to provide them with material reception conditions and accommodation.
Rosa, an unaccompanied minor from Syria, is another victim of this blanket detention policy and of the failure of the authorities to abide by their reception obligations. Rosa was hardly 14 years old when she left Syria. Rosa, who has also been the victim of a child marriage arrangement, after transiting through Turkey and following several attempts to enter Greece, arrived unaccompanied on a small Dodecanese island in November 2019. She was subsequently transferred to Kos but was never subjected to reception and identification procedures in the local Reception and Identification Center. On the contrary, she was issued with a deportation and detention decision ordering her readmission to Turkey.
Rosa was registered as an adult woman and detained among adults in mixed detention conditions for 16 months. She had her asylum claim examined as an adult without receiving the appropriate representation or any legal assistance. The claim was rejected by the Asylum Service as inadmissible. Her case was treated no differently than the case of an adult Syrian arriving on the island after the EU-Turkey deal. The Asylum Service considered that Turkey is a safe third country for her and ordered her return back to Turkey. Rosa appealed the decision upon notification and the procedure before the Appeals Committee is still pending. Her minority was recognised only recently, after being detained for more than a year, following the intervention of RSA lawyers. Rosa was finally removed from detention and transferred to a shelter for minors.
Sarah, on the other hand, is still under risk of refoulement to Turkey if the family reunification she has requested in order to join her husband in Germany in accordance with the Dublin Regulation fails. In that case, her claim will be examined in Greece under a deficient border admissibility procedure which entails a pre-determined outcome for the majority of Syrians. In implementation of the EU-Turkey “deal”, Greece routinely refuses to examine the merits of the overwhelming majority of claims by Syrians arriving on the Eastern Aegean islands, like Sarah. It applies the “safe third country” concept and finds the claim to be inadmissible considering Turkey as a safe third country for them.
German authorities have systematically rejected Sarah’s family reunification case until now. Sarah’s family is torn apart, not only by conflict but also by the persistent contestation of her family bonds and life story by asylum authorities in Europe. Putting refugees’ lives under scrutiny is unavoidably part of the process, both for refugee status determination and family reunification procedures. Yet, rooting around their family lives and putting people’s very intimate relationships in question amounts to degradation.
In her interview before the Asylum Service, Sarah has stated the truth and the obvious. ‘I cannot go back to Turkey. I am not safe there, I need to be with my husband’.
As Sarah remains locked up in Kos , she asks in bewilderment and despair ‘What will happen to me, what have I done to be treated like this? ’.
Similarly Rosa, whose detention ordeal has recently come to an end, as she awaits the outcome of her asylum procedure, is puzzled and anxious about what comes next. When asked about how she sees her future, and what she would like to do she says; ‘ I just want to be safe and study, I want to go to school’. For almost one and half year in Greece Rosa has been deprived of any access to education and the authorities have failed to treat her for what she is; a child.
The injustices done to women and children like Sarah and Rosa are not mishaps by chance. They are a conscious policy choice, an inherent part of the implementation of the toxic EU-Turkey deal.
- Name changed to protect identity. ↑
- Up until now, the overwhelming majority of persons arriving in Greece are immediately and automatically issued a standardised deportation order by the police upon entry, without any assessment of their individual needs. This practice is followed despite the fact that those persons express their intention to seek international protection and that such an intention has been registered. (see Vasileios Papadopoulos, ‘Αντιρρήσεις κατά κράτησης αλλοδαπού’ (2020) 32 Διοικητική Δίκη 337-345, 337). On the basis of a police circular (Police Circular 1604/16/1195968, 18 June 2016) a deportation order is issued and is then suspended upon the registration of an asylum application, since it cannot be executed. This does not always take place. ↑
- RSA et al, The Workings of the Screening Regulation, January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3p8y24P. ↑
- See e.g. Administrative Court of Rhodes, Decision AP464/2020, 17 July 2020, para 4(b)&Administrative Court of Rhodes, Decision AP715/2020, 17 December 2020, para 4. ↑
- Article 56(1) IPA. ↑
- Name changed to protect identity. ↑
Uprooted, threatened and assaulted but refused protection (in order to be handed over to the persecutor)
Arin is a young Kurdish woman from Afrin. She fled Syria following operation ‘Olive Branch’ and Turkish occupation of Afrin in January 2018.
As a result of the operation, almost 150,000 Kurdish residents of Afrin were displaced and more than 75% of their olive farms were seized. As civilians in Afrin came under indiscriminate shelling, Turkish border guards randomly shot at refugees attempting to flee the conflict zone into Turkey .
In 2019, Arin sought refuge in Greece together with her two brothers. Both of them had been previously arrested and tortured by Turkish authorities. She herself narrowly escaped arrest when she was accused by members of the Turkish army for supporting the Kurdish forces and had a gun put to her head threatening her life. Many other family members have been harassed by the occupying powers while one cousin who has been kidnapped by the Turkish army is still missing to date.
The United Nations’ Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria in its report assessing the situation in Afrin found that there is credible information that war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture, and pillage, often targeting individuals of Kurdish origin, had taken place.
Nevertheless, Arin’s asylum claim has been rejected as inadmissible on the basis that Turkey is considered as a “safe third country” for her, as Greek Asylum Service routinely does for the majority of asylum claims lodged by Syrian refugees arriving on the Aegean islands following the March 2016 EU-Turkey “deal”.
Today, Arin is still on a North-Eastern Aegean camp waiting for her appeal to be examined. She has never received adequate reception conditions.Since her arrival on the island in September 2019, she lives in a tent and is obliged to endure extreme overcrowding and squalid conditions.
These conditions persist through the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent her from adhering to social distancing and living in hygiene conditions that would protect her from the risk of infection.
After all, it is absolutely lawful and reasonable to deny her protection on the basis that the very state whose army invaded and placed her home under military occupation, kidnapped and tortured her brothers and family, threatened to kill her, and largely created her need for international protection is firstly a ‘third’ and secondly a ‘safe’ country for her, isn’t it?
- The New Humanitarian, How Afrin became Syria’s latest humanitarian disaster, 19 March 2018, available at https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/analysis/2018/03/19/how-afrin-became-syria-s-latest-humanitarian-disaster, Reuters, More than 150,000 people in Syria’s Afrin displaced: Kurdish official, monitor 17 March 2018 available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-afrin-idUSKCN1GT0BL ↑
- Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, After displacing more than 300000 Kurdish residents of Afrin people, Turkish-backed factions seize more than 75% of olive farms and receive the price of the first season in advance available at https://www.syriahr.com/en/102951/ ↑
- BBC “Syria war: Turkey ‘indiscriminately shelling civilians in Afrin'”,28 February 2018. ↑
- ReliefWeb, Turkey/Syria: Border Guards Shoot, Block Fleeing Syrians, 3 February 2018 available at https://reliefweb.int/report/turkey/turkeysyria-border-guards-shoot-block-fleeing-syrians ↑
- ReliefWeb, Rights Groups: Abuses on the Rise in Syria’s Afrin , 2 June 2019,available at https://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/rights-groups-abuses-rise-syria-s-afrin and UN HRC , Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (A/HRC/40/70) [EN/AR], 31 Jan 2019 available at https://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/report-independent-international-commission-inquiry-syrian-arab-6 ↑