Amnesty International: The EU-Turkey deal which has resulted in the suffering of thousands of refugees and migrants is a stain on the collective conscience of Europe, said Amnesty International on the first anniversary of the agreement.
The deal aimed at returning asylum-seekers back to Turkey on the premise that Turkey is safe for them, has failed on its own terms but left thousands exposed to squalid and unsafe conditions on Greek islands.
“Today marks a dark day in the history of refugee protection: one in which Europe’s leaders attempted to buy themselves out of their international obligations, heedless of the cost in human misery,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe.
“A year ago, the Greek islands were transformed into de facto holding pens, as Europe’s shores went from being sites of sanctuary into places of peril. One year on, thousands remain stranded in a dangerous, desperate and seemingly endless limbo.”
The majority of asylum seekers in the camps are not allowed to leave the islands. They are corralled in overcrowded, squalid conditions and at times, have been victims of violent hate crimes. Five refugees on Lesvos, including a child, have died as a result of circumstances strongly linked with these conditions.
Although European leaders maintain the fiction that Turkey is a safe third country for refugees and asylum seekers, Greek courts have so far blocked the return of Syrian asylum-seekers to Turkey on this basis.
Amnesty International has nonetheless documented how some Syrian asylum-seekers have been forcibly returned to Turkey without having access to asylum and without being able to appeal against their return, in breach of international law. Others have ‘voluntarily’ returned to Turkey because of the misery on the Greek islands.
The anniversary of the deal coincides with a deadline for lawyers to submit additional evidence on a case being considered by Greece’s highest administrative court which will determine whether Turkey can be considered a “safe country” for refugees.
The case involves “Noori”, a 21 year old asylum seeker, who has been unlawfully detained for more than six months after his asylum claim was declared inadmissible by Greek courts on the basis that Turkey is a ‘safe third country’ for him. Depending on the court’s decision, he could be immediately sent back to Turkey. The verdict, expected within the month, could set a precedent and could open the floodgates for further returns.
Instead of trying to return asylum seekers and refugees to Turkey, where they do not have effective protection, the EU should be working with the Greek authorities to urgently transfer asylum-seekers to mainland Greece for their cases to be processed. European governments should provide asylum seekers with access to relocation or other safe and legal ways to other European countries such as family reunification or humanitarian visas.
Despite its manifest failures and flagrant breaches of international law, the EU-Turkey deal has been touted by some European leaders as a model that could be replicated in agreements with other countries.
“The fact that European leaders are heralding as a success a deal which has caused such immeasurable suffering exposes the fact that the EU-Turkey deal has nothing to do with the protection of refugees and everything to do with keeping them out of Europe,” said John Dalhuisen.
“The EU-Turkey deal is a stain on the collective conscience of Europe. As it enters its second year it should not be seen as being a blueprint for other deals, but rather a blueprint for despair for thousands of desperate people who have fled war and conflict in search of sanctuary.”
The EU-Turkey deal was agreed on 18 March 2016 and came into effect on 20 March, 2016.