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Joint Press Release PRO ASYL and RSA

The EU-Turkey deal is collapsing 7 years after its signing

As European role model it represents a frontal attack on international refugee protection

The EU- Turkey statement, which was signed in March 18, 2016 is still sold as the model of how a future European refugee policy could look like.

The fact is: the so-called refugee deal is in ruins on both sides of the Aegean. In Turkey, literally: over 1,5 million protection seekers are also among the victims of the catastrophic earthquake and face being left with nothing. In Greece, tens of thousands of protection seekers have been deprived of their rights and degraded on the Greek islands since March 2016.

“Τhe deal is a human rights nightmare. It represents an exit of the EU from international refugee protection. The European Union continues to promote the normalization and expansion of policies like the one represented by the deal, endangering human lives, rule of law and democracy itself.”

Border procedures, detention and supposedly “safe third countries”

The EU-Turkey deal and the current practice in Greece show how dangerous border procedures and the third country concept are for refugee protection.

At the Special Summit of European Heads of Government on February 9, 2023, it was agreed that the concept of “safe third countries” should be used more intensively and that the European Asylum Agency should draw up guidelines for this. As part of the reform of the Common European Asylum System, the criteria for “safe third countries” are to be reduced to such an extent that there is hardly anything to prevent the mass rejection of people in the EU who are actually entitled to protection.

The “EU-Turkey deal ” signals and demonstrates the deviation from the basic principles of the rule of law.

The backsliding of the rule of law in Greece continues alarmingly and systematically, and the governmental and state handling of refugee constitute one of the most serious threats to its functioning and to the democratic acquis of the country. The result of the “agreement” was and is the deprivation of refugees’ fundamental rights, the challenge of the right to asylum, confinement and detention of asylum seekers and finally, their prevention from entering and staying on EU territory.

Still, the deal continues to have devastating effects on the lives of thousands of refugees on the Greek islands, with their unconditional and out-of-bounds hostage and their exclusion from the rightful and foreseen protection. At the same time, illegal practices of deterrence and informal forced returns of asylum seekers from accessing Greek and European territory are evolving, as recorded in the recent Interim Report of the Recording Mechanism of Incidents of Informal Forced Returns and in the unprecedented number of interventions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to the Greek authorities in the last year.

On the “anniversary” of the 7 years of the Agreement, the Greek Council of State, with its decision no. 177/2023, now seals its failure in the most official way. The Council of State recognizes the obvious: the fact that the Agreement does not work, as Turkey has been refusing, for three years now, access to its territory and the return of asylum seekers rejected by the Greek authorities, based on the concept of “safe third country”. Thus, the Council of State submitted preliminary questions to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), while at the same time, with a strong majority, it favored the annulment of the joint decision of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Migration and Asylum, at the point where it defines Turkey as a “safe third country” for applicants for international protection from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia.

“On the ‘anniversary’ of the 7 years of the EU-Turkey Deal, the Greek Council of State, now seals in the most official way its failure, demonstrating, as at the famous fairy-tale, that ‘the Emperor has no clothes’, and recognizing the fact that the Deal simply does not work. These policies are neither legitimate nor sustainable for the European Union and Greece, and must be ended. It is an issue of democracy and it matters.”

In fact today, while the Greek Part of the agreement is collapsing, the EU reinforces these policies, and refuses to check compliance with EU law. The PRO ASYL & RSA joint complaint lodged last year, still has not been answered by the European Commission, while it was precisely called to immediately initiate infringement procedures against Greece for systemic violations of international and EU law, due to the arbitrary rejection of asylum applications based on the “safe third country” concept and the prevention of refugees from accessing asylum procedures.

In order to restore basic rights of protection seekers PRO ASYL and Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) demand:

  • The immediate abolishment of the “EU-Turkey Agreement” and the launch of radically different policies than those of deterrence and militarization of external borders,
  • Compliance and respect of the non-refoulement principle on land or at sea,
  • Ensuring safe passages for asylum seekers, to finally end the death journeys, and ensure that the fundamental right to asylum is respected. Εven more now, after the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, safe passages and concrete mechanisms, such as unbureaucratic visas, family reunification and resettlement must be ensured for the Syrians but also Afghan and Iranian refugees who were affected by the earthquake and are found trapped in Turkey, and who wish to apply for asylum in the EU.
  • The establishment and maintenance of a permanent large-scale relocation mechanism within the EU Member States,
  • The immediate lifting of the “geographic restriction” implemented in the islands, the transfer of asylum seekers to suitable conditions in the mainland, the substantial overall strengthening of the reception system, and finally
  • The radical change of reception and asylum policy in Greece and the assurance of fundamental principles of international protection and the rule of law that are systematically violated in Greece, with disastrous consequences for human lives.

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