On Wednesday in Brussels the European Commission specified the plans for the EU-Turkey deal. Criticism voiced by the UN, the Council of Europe and human rights organizations beforehand did have some effect. However, the plans still violate fundamental human rights. The “Turkish solution” is a direct assault on the right of asylum.
On Friday 18 March 2016 the new deal with Turkish Prime Minister Davutoğlu is supposed to be cut and dried. The meeting of the European heads of government in Brussels is aimed at that: Turkey is to declare its commitment to the “return of all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey“. While the European Union discusses designating Turkey as a „safe third country“ for protection applicants, more and more western journalists leave the country because they no longer feel safe there.
“These plans are simply illegal”
Vehement criticism of the planned deal has already been voiced in the run-up to it. On 8 March Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated: “As a first reaction, I am deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law.” The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights found similarly clear words: “These plans are simply illegal”.
Wishful thinking while human rights are being violated
The massive criticism didn’t remain ineffective. On 16 March 2016 the European Commission specified its plans: In the EU an individual determination of refugee status in each case is called for and a “blanket” return policy is to be ruled out. The list of things that would have to happen according to the European Commission before the European Union’s outsourcing program might be realized is endless: “It appears that to apply these provisions changes would be required to both Greek and Turkish domestic legislation. In the case of Greece, this applies to the status of Turkey as a “safe third country” and […] [in] the case of Turkey, this applies […] [to] access to effective asylum procedures for all persons in need of international protection […].“
That Turkey complies with the principle of non-refoulement is nothing but wishful thinking: “The principle of non-refoulement should be respected by Turkey in all cases, in line with existing international obligations”. Reinhard Marx – an expert on asylum law – has formulated a legal expertise for PRO ASYL in which he concludes: “The principle of non-refoulement […] prohibits removing refugees from national territory and also turning them away at the border of the contracting states. […] It is clear that Turkey has not sufficiently transposed non-refoulement, which is binding under international law, and that Turkish law does not prohibit turning away refugees seeking protection at the border.” Additionally he found that in practice, “Turkey does not observe non-refoulement as a prohibition of both turning away and deporting refugees.”
European Commission: Turkey is not a “safe third country”
The European Commission tries to play down and obfuscate the legal obstacles of the EU-Turkey deal. According to law in the European Union a “safe third country” has to have signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees without reservations. The European Commission now merely talks of “equivalent protection” to the Convention. That amounts to admitting that Turkey does not meet the necessary conditions now. The required protection is not available in Turkey: The Convention does not apply to refugees from Syria, Iraq and other non-European countries.
Greece: Desolate asylum system and increase of detention capacities
Carrying out case-by-case procedures for all protection applicants arriving in Greece is, in view of the factually non-existent asylum system in Greece, unfeasible. Greece doesn’t have the means to implement fair asylum procedures. In the month of March around 1,300 protection applicants reached the Greek islands daily, 143,634 since the beginning of the year. The dangerous passage already cost the lives of 354 individuals this year alone.
On top of this there is no sufficiently equipped court system in Greece which would allow to examine authorities’ decisions by the courts – asylum procedures according to rule of law are thus not guaranteed. A dignifying reception system doesn’t exist in Greece either. Right now around 50,000 refugees reside in Greece but the capacity to house them extends only to 30,000. This includes several stadiums, barracks or empty industrial buildings – the conditions are miserable.
Despite the completely unacceptable conditions for protection seekers, Greece is supposed to become a catchment area for thousands of refugees. The European Commission demands the construction of additional “separate facilities for irregular migrants” and the increase of detention capacities to arrest asylum seekers if there is a risk of them going into hiding. There is a looming that Greece return to an excessive practice of incarceration which has been heavily criticized in the past and has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights.
Mind-boggling 1:1 deal
For every Syrian refugee Turkey takes back via boat, another Syrian refugee is allowed to resettle legally to Europe. This bizarre approach continues to be held by the European Commission. Only if a Syrian protection applicant risks her or his life on the passage and then is delivered back in a fast-track procedure, a resettlement opportunity for another protection applicant from Syria becomes available. For other refugees arriving on boats – for example from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran or Eritrea – there is no legal way.
At the moment approximately 18,000 resettlement admissions agreed upon in July of 2015 are still available. If the European Commission has its way, 54,000 additional ones originally meant for relief of Member States at the European external borders are to be used for resettlement from Turkey as required. This is an absurd deal, which plays off Syrian protection applicants against others. Since the readiness for relocation within Europe is almost nil the deal seems downright unreal. It is not only cynical but also divorced from reality. Resettlement is an act of humaneness and solidarity and is being completely demolished by this 1:1 deal.
“Safe zones in Syria”: Refugees as victims of the interests of military policy
In its statement the European Commission again aims for refugees to be able to live in so-called “safe zones” in Syria. Turkey intends to prevent the formation of coherent Kurdish territories by all means available. Refugees are at risk of being used in the game of regional military policy and that the European Union thereby provides Turkey with the basis for military intervention.
We continue to say no to this dirty deal with Turkey! Together with our partner organizations in Europe we will advocate for protection applicants in the Aegean not to be mere objects of a European return mechanism.