The EU-Turkey Statement (called there of: EU-Turkey Deal) which is being implemented since March 20th, 2016 aimed to deter and eliminate further new refugee arrivals from the Turkish coast to Europe. While the ‘Deal’ is being advertised as a ‘success’ story in migration control, for protection seekers it is just a new model systematic repression and suffering.
Since its very beginning protection seekers suffered from new forms of grave human rights violations that followed these policies. They are at first automatically and systematically detained in the so called hotspots (identification and registration detention centers) and later banned from leaving the islands as they authorities enforce geographical restriction, a ‘restriction of movement’ that has ever since caught up in limbo thousands under inhuman conditions. While on EU-territory, refugees, are exposed to various human rights violations and, in particular Syrians, face the risk of being returned back to Turkey without any examination of their grounds of asylum.
RSA is on a regular basis documenting and highlighting the impact caused by the intensive implementation of the EU-Turkey deal to the rule of law as well as to the lives of the people that are subject to the deal.
The Dublin System
Dublin returns to Greece have been halted since early 2011 when the European Court of Human Rights decided in favor of MSS against Belgium and Greece.
On December 8th, 2016 the European Commission recommended to reassume Dublin returns to Greece from 15, March 2017 onwards despite the fact that conditions for the refugees have not sufficiently improved. Some member states such as Germany, announced that they would commence sending back gradually protection seekers from then on starting with the healthy and not vulnerable ones.
Already some time now a new amendment of the Dublin Regulation (Dublin IV) is being discussed.
Human rights experts fear that Dublin IV will bring further decrease in human rights and cause more suffering to refugees, amongst others, having a detrimental impact on the rights of those seeking family reunification.
RSA regularly monitors and documents the consequences of the implementation of the policies deriving from the Dublin Regulation in order to highlight how they lead to the exclusion of some of the most vulnerable refugees.
Death at Border
Hundreds of refugees lost their lives at the Greek borders during the last years while trying to reach Europe and move to the North.
The refusal of the EU-countries to open up legal routes for those seeking safety has forced refugees in the hands of the smuggling networks and pushed them to choose more dangerous routes.
The year 2016, when the so-called Balkan Corridor was re-closed and the EU–Turkey Statement was enforced, has been the deadliest year in record. More than 5,000 refugees drowned and suffocated while trying to cross the Mediterranean – also in the Aegean Sea and at the Greek–Turkish land border.
RSA closely monitors shipwreck incidents on both sides of the Aegean, assists victims and their families and raises awareness about the consequences and human cost of EU border policy.
Detention and Reception Conditions
Greece has been condemned many times by the European Court of Human Rights for its inhuman and degrading detention conditions. With the massive inflow of European funds in the last two years, new facilities have been opened, ‘hotspots’ and emergency reception sites have been established, re-organized, re-built and renovated many times. Yet, this could not prevent dozens of refugee deaths and inhuman conditions. To the contrary it even resulted in a number of suicide attempts and psychological trauma and illnesses among the residents.
At recent additional detention facilities on the Aegean Islands authorities plan to detain rejected asylum seekers, including those whose asylum claims were found inadmissible, in order to facilitate and secure the planned fast deportations to Turkey.
The implementation of indiscriminate detention policy together with an insufficient reception framework results in a large number of persons seeking asylum in Greece not receiving protection. It also leads to an asylum policy which is problematic.
RSA works continuously to highlight the impact that such policies have upon asylum-seekers and put pressure to the authorities so that these policies are brought in line with international human rights and refugee law.
In the recent years PRO ASYL together with several other human rights organizations denounced the systematic human rights violations against refugees in the Aegean Sea and the Greek-Turkish land border through illegal push-back operations, sometimes with fatal results.
Hundreds of refugees described how their inflatable boats were rammed, knifed, or nearly capsized by armed men wearing black masks while they were being towed or circled by a Greek coastguard boat.
Internal investigations of the Greek Coast Guard are ongoing but with no results until today despite the detailed documentations provided in many cases.
RSA follows up related reports and seeks to document cases or irregular returns, as well as expose the fact that such practices have been tolerated, concealed and sometimes endorsed by the national and European authorities.
Integration and Social Rights
According to law, upon recognition a refugee gains almost the same rights as Greek citizens. Reforms in the asylum system resulted in changing the Greek negative record in protection rate in Europe (less than 1%) and increased it to average European levels.
Still recognized refugees see no prospect of a stable life and safe future in Greece and decide to move to southern European countries.
RSA regularly documents living conditions of refugees and the development of integration policies.
Being an unaccompanied minor (UAM) for most of the history of migration in Greece has been usually in practice a disadvantage. Minors had to experience long and repeated detention periods as there was a lack of sufficient open appropriate shelters.
With no proper system of identification and registration of unaccompanied minors in place, still many remain unrecognized and unprotected in the hotspots and emergency reception sites. They still may be detained, readmitted or deported if not identified.
The absence of an efficient system of care and guardianship for unaccompanied minors is a chronic issue.
RSA monitors and points out to the authorities cases of minors that are in need of immediate assistance and protection. Furthermore it advocates for a modern and effective policy on the protection of unaccompanied minors.