Refugees are not weapons

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is appealing for calm and an easing of tensions on Turkey’s borders with the European Union in light of the present increased movements of people there – including refugees and asylum-seekers.

UNHCR is monitoring developments in Turkey and in Greece and is offering its support. As in all such situations it is important that the authorities refrain from any measures that might increase the suffering of vulnerable people. 

All States have a right to control their borders and manage irregular movements, but at the same time should refrain from the use of excessive or disproportionate force and maintain systems for handling asylum requests in an orderly manner.

Neither the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees nor EU refugee law provides any legal basis for the suspension of the reception of asylum applications. Article 78(3) of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) has been evoked by the Greek Government in this regard, however this provision allows for provisional measures to be adopted by the Council, on a proposal from the Commission and in consultation with the European Parliament, in the event that one or more Member States are confronted by an emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of third country nationals while it cannot suspend the internationally recognized right to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulement that are also emphasized in EU law. Persons entering irregularly on the territory of a State should also not be punished if they present themselves without delay to the authorities to seek asylum.

On the borders between Turkey and the EU, UNHCR is working with national partners, Turkish Red Crescent, IOM and Unicef, assessing the situation and providing humanitarian assistance where needed. Groups there have included Syrians, Afghans, Iranians, Sudanese and other nationalities – including women, children and families, arriving in precarious conditions.

In Greece, UNHCR teams reported the arrival of some 1,200 people on 1 March and 2 March morning on the East Aegean islands (Lesvos, Chios, Samos) – higher than the recent daily rate. UNHCR has replenished stocks of dry food and blankets to support new arrivals and has confirmed that other actors have additional items in stock.

Greece, and other States on the EU external border, should not be left alone. Continued European resources, capacity and solidarity are needed to boost Greece’s response.

At the same time, international support to Turkey, which already hosts millions of refugees, as well as other countries neighbouring Syria, must be sustained and stepped up.

While the situation on the Turkey’s western borders and Greece and movement of several thousand people is of concern, the humanitarian disaster unfolding in the northwest Syria and massive humanitarian needs in Idlib for some 950,000 of internally displaced people continues to require urgent action.

UNHCR’s Compact on RefugeesOn 17 December 2018, the United Nations General Assembly affirmed the Global Compact on Refugees, after two years of extensive consultations led by UNHCR with Member States, international organizations, refugees, civil society, the private sector, and experts.

The Global Compact on Refugees is a framework for more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing, recognizing that a sustainable solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation.

It provides a blueprint for governments, international organizations, and other stakeholders to ensure that host communities get the support they need and that refugees can lead productive lives.

It constitutes a unique opportunity to transform the way the world responds to refugee situations, benefiting both refugees and the communities that host them.

Its four key objectives are to:

  • Ease the pressures on host countries;
  • Enhance refugee self-reliance;
  • Expand access to third-country solutions;
  • Support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.

What does the Global Compact on Refugees include? The Global Compact on Refugees has four parts:

  • An introduction setting out the background, guiding principles, and objectives of the global compact.
  • The Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), as agreed to by Member States in Annex I of the New York Declaration.
  • A Programme of Action setting out concrete measures to help meet the objectives of the compact, including:
    • Arrangements to share burdens and responsibilities through a Global Refugee Forum (every four years), national and regional arrangements for specific situations, and tools for funding, partnerships, and data gathering and sharing.
    • Areas in need of support, from reception and admission, to meeting needs and supporting communities, to solutions.
  • Arrangements for follow-up and review, which will primarily be conducted through the Global Refugee Forum every four years, an annual high-level officials meeting held every two years between forums, and the High Commissioner’s annual report to the General Assembly.

See below for information from other organisations:

European Council of Refugees and Exiles- an international network whose members in the UK include the Red Cross, the Refugee Council and ILPA (Immigration Lawyers Practitioners Association):Stay Calm, Stay Human

ECRE is highly concerned about the political developments emanating from last week’s events in Idlib, Syria and urges calm and measured response, focused on accepting refugees and sharing responsibility across Europe.

ECRE condemns acts of violence against refugees seeking protection at Europe’s borders and further condemns efforts to deny the right to asylum or to expel people. It is not illegal to cross borders to seek protection. Refugees are at risk in Turkey: even before the escalation of the violence in Idlib, Turkey was threatening to forcibly return refugees to Syria.

Europe: stay calm and stay human

  • ECRE has been warning for over six months about the risks of escalation in Idlib and the likely consequences. Europe has the means for collective emergency responses that remain humane: there is no excuse for panic and panic is no excuse for repression at borders. Refugees seeking protection should not be treated as a security threat, with heavy-handed military tactics and language. We are alarmed at the hysterical and inappropriate language of political leaders: this is not a war; this is not an invasion.
  • Misinterpretation and manipulation of recent court judgments should be avoided; in particular, they should not be misused to imprison or otherwise criminalise people seeking protection.
  • ECRE urges European policy-makers to stay calm and stay human. European countries need to refrain from actions that contravene international and EU law, including violence against people at borders. All violence against people seeking protection, and border controls that are non-compliant with EU and international law, should be condemned and punished rather than supported by EU institutions and agencies, including by the European Commission and the Member States meeting in the Justice and Home Affairs Council.
  • Inflammatory and military language from EU and national policy-makers contributes to the risk of violence against people seeking protection and against the organisations and individuals who provide support and show solidarity. ECRE is concerned about the rapidly worsening environment in this regard in both Greece and Turkey.
  • All people should have access to an asylum procedure, as it is a right under EU law. There is no basis in EU or international refugee law for suspension of acceptance of asylum applications. ECRE thus condemns the publication in the Official Gazette of Greece of the legislative act of the Greek Government concerning suspension of the registration of asylum applications in Greece for one month, and immediate return to country of origin or transit of those “illegally” entering Greece. ECRE denounces this act which constituted an unjustifiable derogation from the Geneva Convention and from EU asylum law and calls for a strong condemnation from political leaders and the European Commission.
  • Article 78(3) Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) provides for the Council to “adopt provisional measures” in case of an emergency due to a “sudden inflow”. If it is invoked, the provisions must comply with EU law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights; it cannot thus provide a legal base for the suspension of the right to asylum or for expulsions that contravene the principle of non-refoulement. The TFEU also stipulates that the European Parliament must be consulted and the Parliament should be prepared to promote positive alternatives when this happens.
  • European countries need to mount a collective emergency response, providing humanitarian assistance, decent reception conditions, and access to asylum for people arriving. This should be via a coalition of all the countries willing to work together to support border countries. There is no need to wait for those unwilling to assist.
  • If the situation continues, emergency and humanitarian provisions that allow for collective responses should be invoked, including the Temporary Protection Directive, the relevant provisions of the Dublin Regulation, and humanitarian programming.
  • Relocation of people out of EU countries facing disproportionate pressure is an essential solidarity measure, as civil society has repeatedly argued, but should happen within EU legal frameworks, and when the countries themselves abide by EU and international law. Suspending transfers back to Greece under the Dublin Regulation would also demonstrate solidarity and free up resources for Greece and other Member States.
  • All emergency measures taken at EU-level, including through invocation of Article 78(3) TFEU, should be based on managing arrivals through sharing responsibility and allowing rapid access to asylum and protection for all people on the move.

Civil society: ready to act

  • Civil society is ready to scale up its response to support the hosting of refugees in Europe and rapid access to asylum, as it has done throughout recent years.
  • Civil society is also exploring litigation against any action that contravenes EU law or international law, including the European Convention on Human Rights. ECRE strongly supports the initiatives to demonstrate against a “fortress Europe” response that are springing up across Europe and urges continued action and solidarity with those on the move and the organisations directly affected by recent developments.

Turkey: don’t use refugees as pawns

  • The current situation shows the risk of outsourcing protection and relying on Turkey, instead of finding collective European responses and fixing European asylum systems.
  • The EU-Turkey deal gave power to President Erdogan and allows him to use refugees as pawns as he attempts to extract concessions from the rest of Europe. President Erdogan’s demands as usual are related to Turkey’s interests in Syria and not about the money. The Deal is also one of the reasons for reinforcement of the Turkish border which traps hundreds of thousands of refugees in Syria.
  • However, it should always be noted that Turkey is hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world and more than twice as many as the rest of Europe combined. It is time for the rest of Europe to do its fair share.
  • Wider European solidarity with Turkey is necessary, along with acknowledgement of the role Turkey is playing. Solidarity should go beyond financial support.
  • A “fortress Europe” response is likely to exacerbate the already challenging situation in Turkey, including contributing to the ongoing deterioration in asylum policies and practices and further complicating the work of civil society involved in the defence of refugee rights.
  • A hardline response from the EU will also be counter-productive because it may contribute to anti-Syrian and anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey, with this week’s developments unleashing new attacks and anti-refugee rhetoric, making Turkey less safe for refugees.

Syria: pressure to end violence

  • The real crisis is in Syria where repression and violence have led to unprecedented suffering, including massive displacement. The battle for territory before a potential settlement and the involvement of external actors fighting proxy wars for their own interests, means that the conflicts generate ever-more violence.
  • The priority has to be responding to the situation in Syria, where Europe should do everything in its power to press all conflict parties, internal and external, to de-escalate and put in place ceasefires. Humanitarian access is essential, along with a proportionate humanitarian response.
  • The distraction of another unnecessary European political crisis on refugee arrivals has to be avoided.

Over 12 million people have been displaced by repression and violence in Syria; their lives should be priority. Only a small percentage will make it the EU which should respond in a calm and humane way, taking on its fair share of responsibility and using the legal and financial measures at its disposal to manage the situation.

Download Statement

World Council of Churches: “Migrants are not missiles, they are people” says WCC general secretary in response to crisis at Greek-Turkish border05 March 2020

Following a deal reached between the European Union and Turkey in March 2016, Turkey has been taking measures to prevent migrants – many of them fleeing the conflict in Syria – from reaching the EU, in exchange for European aid for migrants and refugees, and for relaxation of EU visa requirements for Turkish citizens. On Friday 28 February, after military losses in north-west Syria – where Turkey has been trying to create a safe area to resettle millions of Syrian refugees and  to serve Turkish interests against the Kurds  – those measures were suspended, resulting in large numbers of people attempting to cross into Greece and consequent clashes with Greek security forces.

On Tuesday 3 March, the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, together with European Council president Charles Michel and European Parliament speaker David Sassoli, visited the border area, accompanied by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and described Greece as Europe’s ‘shield’.

And today, 5 March, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Vladimir Putin of Russia met in Moscow with the aim of stopping clashes between Turkish and Syrian government forces in Syria’s north-western Idlib province.

“What is lost in this tragic situation” observed WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, “is that refugees and migrants are not missiles to be launched against adversaries, or to be deflected like incoming projectiles. They are people – children, women and men – many of whom have fled for their lives from the horrors of war in Syria.

“As such, many of them have a legal and moral claim to refugee status” underlined WCC director for international affairs Peter Prove. “The international community – and especially those states most directly involved in Syria, notably Turkey and Russia – have a responsibility to protect the people suffering the effects of the continuing conflict in Syria, and to bring the violence to a long overdue end. We all betray them and our own proclaimed humanitarian principles by ‘weaponizing’ the plight of those displaced by this conflict and by failing to respect and implement long established principles of international law, especially the right to asylum.”

Tveit affirmed that “Greece needs much greater support and solidarity from other EU member countries in sharing the responsibility of receiving and hosting those who need compassion, care and refuge. But while all countries have the sovereign right and responsibility to control their borders, they must not do so at the cost of undermining fundamental international humanitarian law and principles designed exactly for the purpose of alleviating the suffering of victims of such conflicts and crises. A more compassionate and principled solution must be found, acknowledging the legitimate concerns of state authorities while respecting applicable international humanitarian law and reflecting regional co-responsibility.”


In recent weeks we have all seen reports of an alarming escalation of the situation in Greece, particularly on the Aegean Islands and at the land border with Turkey. Some of you have been in touch with us saying that you want to do something to help, but feel powerless about the situation. We feel the same way, so we have put together some information that we gathered from our sources on the ground and various agencies who are working in Greece. Hopefully it will be useful in helping to understand the situation and in seeing ways that you can help by lending your support to campaigns: [Read the full report here]


  • Where is the humanity?
  • Where is the compassion?
  • Where is the peace building?
  • Where is the solutions based thinking?
  • Where is the humanitarian support from the EU?

National Herald: Greek Parliament President Sends Border Issue Letter to Council of Europe, EU Parliament Presidents  March 5, 2020

ATHENS – An update on current events at the Greek-Turkish borders, following an attempt orchestrated by Turkey to have tens of thousands of migrants and refugees breach Greek borders was contained in a letter sent on Thursday by Greek Parliament President Constantine Tassoulas to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly President Hendrik Daems and 45 presidents of parliaments of EU member states.

In his letter, Tassoulas calls the “sudden, mass and growing migration and refugee flows” in the east of the country “an active, grave and asymmetric threat” which is “being directed and encouraged by Turkey, which is using those that have gathered as a means to exert pressure and extort.”

His letter, he says, is prompted by the Council of Europe’s role as a shield of human rights and solidarity.

The full letter follows:

“Honourable President,

As President of the Hellenic Parliament I feel it is my duty to address this letter to you, in order to bring to your attention events and practices that not only constitute human rights violations, but also a mass, unprecedented, inhumane and blatant exploitation of human misery, in an effort to ask for a quid pro quo which is out of any content of political deliberation or negotiation.

As of 27 February my country has been subject to a sudden, mass and growing migration and refugee flows, who are amassing at the eastern land and sea borders of Greece. This movement, as clearly demonstrated by all evidence, is being directed and encouraged by Turkey, which is using those that have gathered as a means to exert pressure and extort, a fact which was criticized by the extraordinary Council of Justice and Home Affairs of the EU, on 4th March. This situation constitutes an active, grave and asymmetric threat against my country’s national security. The Greek borders are also the European Union’s external borders and as such their protection safeguards the interests of all EU member states.

The Prime Minister of Greece has flatly denounced Turkey stating that, by violating the EU-Turkey Statement, Turkey, instead of preventing illegal pathways to Greece, as foreseen in the Statement that he has signed, encourages and helps tens of thousands of refugees and migrants to enter illegally. And this – as he stressed – can be proven by compelling evidence: The public statements by President Erdogan on the opening of the borders. The videos showing the free transport of thousands of people on Turkish buses, accompanied by gendarmerie. Testimonies of those who reached Evros. The messages sent by smugglers to migrants claiming that the borders were open. The fact that migrants who were trying to enter Greek territory were throwing tear gas used by the Turkish army.

All this is enough for anyone to understand this is no longer a refugee and migrant problem.

This is an asymmetric threat on the eastern borders of Greece, which are the borders of Europe. This is a direct attempt at an unlawful invasion of thousands of people, turning into a breach of our national territory, with people at the forefront who, at times, do not shy away from the blatant use of violence, in order to enter Greek territory. This is an attempt, on behalf of Turkey, to use people who are desperate in order to promote its own geopolitical agenda and divert attention away from the appalling situation in Syria. The tens of thousands of people who tried to enter Greece these past few days are not from Idlib. They have been living in Turkey for some time now and most of them speak Turkish fluently. Turkey is delivering on its threat and is trying to illegally send tens of thousands of desperate people to Greece, asking for a quid pro quo. Turkey has become an official migrant trafficker. But above all, what is taking place on the Greek borders constitutes an international political issue of the highest order and it needs to be addressed as such. We are responding to protect our borders, as well as the security of Europe as a whole, in full compliance with International and European law.

Under the present circumstances we are no longer in the framework of the international protection of refugees which is based on individual applications. In this case, one is faced with a collective and organized population movement, directed by a foreign state. It is evident that every state has the right and the obligation to protect its sovereignty and the government will uphold that right to the fullest until normal conditions have been restored at the country’s borders. For this very reason, the suspension of asylum applications is a measure that is fully necessary and reasonable, and is based on international law and the primary law of necessity, but also on the means provided by European law to take measures to protect public safety, public order and public health.

Anyone entering Greek territory unlawfully will be arrested and taken to pre-removal detention centers. Let it be noted that on 18 February the European Court of Human Rights, by a unanimous decision, accepted the mass refoulements of migrants without an examination of their files, taking into account that they entered into Spain illegally and through the use of violence, while Spain had ordered their removal.

Greece has proven its sensibility by hosting more than 100,000 people, half of whom are on islands of the Eastern Aegean. On 3 March, representatives of the European Institutions visited the besieged region. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said, inter alia: I thank Greece for being our European ασπίδα [aspida, English: shield]. She spoke in English, but used the word shield in Greek: Ασπίδα. In Homer’s famous epic poem the Iliad, the most impressive description is not dedicated to a person or a place but, rather, to a shield! 140 Homeric verses are dedicated to the beauty of Achilles’ shield, which was carved with imagery of the Earth and sky, the sea, the sun, the moon and instances mostly of a peaceful life. And therein lies the significance of the shield. To defend peace and security, in order to provide an environment where the invaluable human rights are protected.

I address you, as members of the Council of Europe, the modern-day shield of human rights, at a time when my country is facing an assymetric threat, but also when thousands of our fellow humans are being instrumentalized by Turkey to achieve political or financial gains.

I am convinced that from this day forward Greece will not be alone in addressing this atrocity.

Please accept the expression of my highest consideration.

Constantine An. Tassoulas”