Serious concerns raised about EU-Turkey Deal

EU leaders agree on EU-Turkey Deal despite serious concerns over its consequences for human rights of refugees and migrants

During the European Council meeting of 18 March, EU leaders reached an agreement with Turkey, the so-called EU-Turkey deal. According to the statement issued on the day, the objectives of the measures agreed to are to end irregular migration from Turkey to the EU and to “break the business model of the smugglers and to offer migrants an alternative to putting their lives at risk”.

Prior to the meeting some of the action points agreed were described as “immoral”, “dangerous” and “illegal” by human rights organisations, including ECRE. These include the action point on the return to Turkey of all irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to Greece after 20 March 2016 and the resettlement of one Syrian refugee who travelled from Turkey to the EU in exchange for each Syrian returned to Turkey from Greece. The agreement also states that “Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for illegal migration opening from Turkey to the EU, and will cooperate with neighbouring states as well as the EU to this effect.”

“Resettling one Syrian to the EU for every Syrian readmitted from the Greek islands to Turkey is as Kafkaesque as it is legally and morally wrong,” ECRE stated in a Memorandum issued before the European Council meeting. It argued that resettlement should not be part of an exchange which involves persons risking their lives; resettlement should be implemented separately from readmission and return. ECRE reiterates its opposition to any solution based on the flawed assumption that Turkey is a ‘safe third country’.
Amnesty International also called the idea that Turkey is a safe country a “sham”, while revealing that Turkey detained, denied access to asylum procedures and forcibly returned to Kabul around 30 Afghan asylum seekers just after the EU-Turkey deal came into force.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks and UNHCR welcomed some of the legal safeguards contained in the agreement, such as the adherence to international and European laws, but stressed that its implementation needs to uphold human rights. UNHCR stressed that during the implementation of the deal, people seeking international protection must have an individual interview and the right to appeal a negative decision before readmission to Turkey. Once returned, people in need of international protection must be given the opportunity to seek and effectively access protection in Turkey, UNHCR stated.

According to the agreement, the focus of the hotspots on the Greek islands will shift from “registration and screening before swift transfer to the mainland” to “implementing returns to Turkey”, which includes increasing detention capacity in the facilities. Shortly after the agreement came into force and as the hotspots were being transformed into closed detention facilities, certain organisations suspended at least some of their activities in the centres, including UNHCR, MSF, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children, theInternational Rescue Committee and OXFAM.

“We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalized for a mass expulsion operation and we refuse to be part of a system that has no regard for the humanitarian or protection needs of asylum seekers and migrants,” stated Marie Elisabeth Ingres, MSF Head of Mission in Greece.

Furthermore, immediately after the European Council meeting, the European Commission presented a proposal amending the Council Decision on relocation of 22 September 2015, making available for resettlement from Turkey the 54,000 yet unallocated places intended for relocation from Italy and Greece.

“Although the deal requires an individual assessment and access to an effective remedy for those claiming international protection, it is clear to everyone, including the EU institutions, that this is not yet the case in Greece”, said Catherine Woollard, ECRE’s Secretary General. “An effective remedy is simply not available as the Appeals Committees have not been operating since September 2015 and access to legal assistance is almost non-existent on the islands. This deal is legally and morally wrong and will not turn Turkey into a safe country. The EU should invest time and energy in large scale resettlement, implementing relocation, and support for Greece instead of short-sighted containment strategies”.

Further information:

UNHCR: UNHCR redefines role in Greece as EU-Turkey deal comes into effect

Briefing Notes, 22 March 2016

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 22 March 2016, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

This past Sunday, the provisions agreed between the EU and Turkey to stem the large-scale arrival of refugees and migrants to Greece and beyond into Europe came into effect. Starting already on Saturday, the Greek authorities accelerated the transfer to the mainland of an estimated 8,000 refugees and migrants who had arrived on the islands before the 20th of March. This was to separate them from people arriving after that date and who will be subject to the new return policy.

Arrivals on Lesvos have so far continued. As of this morning 934 people had arrived since Sunday. They are being held at a closed registration and temporary accommodation site in Moria on the east of the island. The remaining 880 people who arrived before Sunday are being hosted about a kilometre away at the Kara Tepe centre, which is run by the local municipality and remains an open facility.

UNHCR has till now been supporting the authorities in the so-called “hotspots” on the Greek islands, where refugees and migrants were received, assisted, and registered. Under the new provisions, these sites have now become detention facilities. Accordingly, and in line with our policy on opposing mandatory detention, we have suspended some of our activities at all closed centres on the islands. This includes provision of transport to and from these sites. However, UNHCR will maintain a presence to carry out protection monitoring to ensure that refugee and human rights standards are upheld, and to provide information on the rights and procedures to seek asylum.

UNHCR staff will also continue to be present at the shoreline and sea port to provide life-saving assistance (including transport to hospitals where needed). We are counselling new arrivals on asylum in Greece, including on family reunification and on access to services. And we are identifying people with specific needs.

UNHCR is concerned that the EU-Turkey deal is being implemented before the required safeguards are in place in Greece. At present, Greece does not have sufficient capacity on the islands for assessing asylum claims, nor the proper conditions to accommodate people decently and safely pending an examination of their cases.

UNHCR is not a party to the EU-Turkey deal, nor will we be involved in returns or detention. We will continue to assist the Greek authorities to develop an adequate reception capacity.

Uncertainty is making the new arrivals nervous. Many still hope that the border will open. Many have run out of money. There is also an urgent need for information. The Greek police have been distributing leaflets in Arabic and Persian informing people that the border is closed and advising them to go to camps where better conditions are provided. But the capacity of nearby camps has been reached, and more camps need to be opened including for candidates for relocation.

Under the EU’s Emergency Relocation Mechanism, European countries agreed to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers, including 66,400 out of Greece and 39,600 out of Italy. As of 21 March 2016, 22 countries had made 7015 places available for asylum seekers to be relocated under the programme and a total of 953 asylum seekers had been relocated (384 out of Italy and 569 out of Greece).

Meanwhile, on the Greek mainland in Idomeni, an estimated 10,000-12,000 people, including some 4,000 children, are camping in dire conditions at an informal site near the border, close to a railway track. The majority are families, many of them with young children. Hygiene is a major concern, negatively impacting people’s health. People are burning plastic and rubbish to keep warm. The general environment is very challenging. UNHCR and partners have been working to improve capacity by providing family-sized and large tents for up to 2,400 people and collecting rubbish. Mobile latrines have been put in place, but they are not enough. Tents have been provided for vulnerable families and individuals, including 30 unaccompanied minors. UNHCR has been visiting detention centres where unaccompanied children are in protective custody. Food distribution has been arranged by several organisations (sandwich and a drink), three times a day, as well as the distribution of milk, baby food, and diapers.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • Idomeni, Babar Baloch, +306 957 202 486

  • Lesvos, Boris Cheshirkov, +30 695 1801 242

  • Athens, Ketty Kehayioylou, +30 694 0277 485

  • Athens, Aikaterini Kitidi, +30 693 711 5656

  • Athens, Stella Nanou, +30 694 45 86 037

  • Geneva, Adrian Edwards, +41 79 557 9120

  • Geneva, William Spindler, +41 79 217 3011

  • Melissa Fleming, +41 22 739 7965