Detention centre in Kirklareli, Turkey. Mülteci-DER

Since 4 April, protection seekers are returned from Greece to Turkey, presuming they would have access to protection there. Our partner organization Mülteci-DER follows the developments closely. Their report “Observations on the Situation of Refugees in Turkey” gives a detailed account of the reality on the ground.

Until the end of April, 375 per­sons have been retur­ned from the Greek islands to Tur­key under the EU-Tur­key Deal. Offi­cials from both sides have repeated­ly assu­red that pro­tec­tion see­kers would still have the pos­si­bi­li­ty to have their cases asses­sed on an indi­vi­du­al basis in Greece, and that, if they were retur­ned to Tur­key, they would have effec­ti­ve access to asyl­um the­re. Howe­ver, alrea­dy on 4 April, 13 pro­tec­tion see­kers from Afgha­ni­stan and the Con­go have been depor­ted without any chan­ce to make their asyl­um claims heard in Greece.

PRO ASYL is sup­por­ting par­ti­cu­lar­ly vul­nerable refu­gees in Greece and Tur­key with legal aid, coope­ra­ting with com­pe­tent lawy­ers and orga­niz­a­ti­ons from Greece and Tur­key with its Refu­gee Sup­port Pro­gram in the Aege­an (RSPA). The obser­va­tions of Mül­teci-DER made in this con­text show a dif­fe­rent pic­tu­re:

Limi­ted access to tem­pora­ry pro­tec­tion for Syri­an refu­gees (from page 1)

Given the high num­bers of Syri­an pro­tec­tion see­kers in Tur­key and the intro­duc­tion of new pro­ce­du­res at the aut­ho­ri­ties respon­si­ble for regis­tra­ti­on, the time nee­ded to get regis­tered for Syri­an refu­gees has incre­a­sed signi­fi­cant­ly. At the moment, it takes several mon­ths for Syri­an pro­tec­tion see­kers to get registered.

At the same time, several regis­tra­ti­on cen­ters – for examp­le in Izmir – were clo­sed down, fur­ther aggra­vating the bot­t­len­eck-situa­ti­on. Mül­teci-Der was infor­med by a num­ber of peop­le who wan­ted to regis­ter for Tem­pora­ry Pro­tec­tion (TP), that they had approa­ched the aut­ho­ri­ties several times to get an appoint­ment without suc­cess, which made some of them to give up try­ing, des­pi­te the risks involved.

Syri­ans retur­ned from the Aege­an Islands to Tur­key do not have a gua­ran­tee to (re-)access TP and “the­re is no cla­ri­fi­ca­ti­on as to what will hap­pen to tho­se who will not be gran­ted Tem­pora­ry Pro­tec­tion” after being read­mit­ted from the Aege­an islands” (page 6).

No effec­ti­ve access to pro­ce­du­res for Non-Syri­an detai­nees (from page 8)

All non-Syri­an retur­nees from the Greek islands sin­ce 4 April have been detai­ned in a detenti­on cen­ter in Kirklare­li. The­re, it is prac­ti­cal­ly impos­si­ble for them to gain access to an asyl­um procedure:

“Des­pi­te (…) safe­guards in the law, in prac­ti­ce it is rather dif­fi­cult for per­sons in detenti­on to get access and enjoy their rights, inclu­ding access to asyl­um. This is because:

1) They need to sub­mit their asyl­um claims in per­son. This means that even if a per­son in need of inter­na­tio­nal pro­tec­tion has a lawy­er, the lawy­er can­not make the asyl­um app­li­ca­ti­on on his/her behalf.

2) They need to sub­mit their asyl­um claim in a writ­ten form, but their access to pen and paper is most­ly impos­si­ble. Qui­te a lot of peop­le are known by Mül­teci-Der to have had their requests from the offi­cers at remo­val cen­ters for pen and paper denied and con­se­quent­ly, becau­se they could not sub­mit an asyl­um peti­ti­on, to have been deported.

3) They are not pro­per­ly infor­med about their rights, so many do not know that they could app­ly for asyl­um from detenti­on and that they could ask for free legal aid which is necessa­ry to appeal against detenti­on, rejec­tion and depor­ta­ti­on orders.

4) In some cases detai­nees were inten­tio­nal­ly mis­in­for­med that, if they were to app­ly for asyl­um, they would be detai­ned for mon­ths. This in many cases dis­cou­ra­ged peop­le from asking for access to asylum.

5) Access to free legal aid is not auto­ma­tic and detai­nees are not infor­med pro­per­ly. It is very rare for detai­nees to know about their right to legal aid and how to access it.”

Mül­teci-DER has also regis­tered a num­ber of seve­re rights vio­la­ti­ons against pro­tec­tion see­kers in detenti­on which are descri­bed in detail in the observations.

Fear of “vol­un­ta­ry” returns and deportations

From the begin­ning, Tur­kish offi­cials had decla­red that non-Syri­an retur­nees under the EU-Tur­key Deal were to be depor­ted back to their coun­tries of ori­gin. Given the impos­si­bi­li­ty to access a fair asyl­um pro­ce­du­re, this pla­ces pro­tec­tion see­kers under seve­re risk of being retur­ned without ever having had the chan­ce to make their claims to pro­tec­tion heard. It is well docu­men­ted that Tur­key has depor­ted per­sons to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

But not even Syri­an refu­gees can be free of fear. As Mül­teci-DER details from page 2 on, the­re have been troub­ling cases of so-cal­led “vol­un­ta­ry” returns to Syria, whe­re Syri­an refu­gees had been pla­ced under arbi­tra­ry detenti­on with the only choice to stay detai­ned inde­fi­ni­te­ly or to return to Syria.

Has Euro­pe abolis­hed the indi­vi­du­al right to asylum?

When pro­tec­tion see­kers who reach Euro­pe never get a chan­ce to app­ly for asyl­um, it beco­mes ques­tion­ab­le whe­ther an indi­vi­du­al right to asyl­um in Euro­pe still exists. Evi­dence like Mülteci-DER’s “Obser­va­tions on the Situa­ti­on of Refu­gees in Tur­key” clear­ly show that Euro­pe can­not sim­ply trust so-cal­led “safe-third coun­tries” to relie­ve it of its respon­si­bi­li­ty for refu­gee protection.