PRO ASYL: The mise­ry and suf­fe­ring of refu­gees on the Aege­an islands must end immediately

Two years on and the Euro­pean Uni­on (EU) is still cele­bra­ting the toxic refu­gee ‘deal’ with Tur­key as a suc­cess. But what ‚works‘ main­ly about the ‚deal‘ is not the num­ber of returns to Tur­key but  the crea­ti­on of suf­fe­ring and mise­ry for refu­gees stran­ded on the Greek islands that deter new arrivals.

Sin­ce 20 March 2016, dra­ma­tic images in the islands’ hot­spots are shaping the public deba­te. Tents in the mud, dire recep­ti­on con­di­ti­ons, deaths lin­ked to the living con­di­ti­ons, attemp­ted sui­ci­des and a signi­fi­cant impact upon the men­tal and phy­si­cal health of refugees.

The geo­gra­phic restric­tion impo­sed on refu­gees arri­ving on the Greek islands has pro­du­ced a mise­ra­ble rea­li­ty for refu­gees living in the EU hot­spots, stret­ched the limits of local socie­ties and con­tri­bu­t­ed signi­fi­cant­ly to xeno­pho­bic and racist responses.

Admi­nis­tra­ti­ve and struc­tu­ral defi­ci­en­ci­es as well as com­plex asyl­um »admis­si­bi­li­ty« pro­ce­du­res adop­ted to faci­li­ta­te the imple­men­ta­ti­on of the ‚refu­gee deal‘, have been con­tri­bu­ting fac­tors to the into­le­ra­ble human mise­ry that is pre­va­lent in the island refu­gee camps.

Recep­ti­on con­di­ti­ons have never been appro­pria­te and lack of safe­ty is the norm inclu­ding serious alle­ga­ti­ons such as sexu­al and gen­der based vio­lence against women and girls.

The asyl­um pro­cess has often been pro­ble­ma­tic fol­lowing the intro­duc­tion of a fast-track bor­der pro­ce­du­re, EASO’s (Euro­pean Asyl­um Sup­port Office) invol­ve­ment and the pro­ble­ma­tic inter­pre­ta­ti­on of the ’safe third coun­try‘ con­cept. Given hot­spots have func­tion­ed over the limit of their capa­ci­ty, rea­li­ty has impo­sed its­elf on natio­nal and Euro­pean poli­cy and as a result peop­le ren­de­red as vul­nerable have been trans­fer­red to the main­land. The num­ber and rate of trans­fers howe­ver remain a cau­se of con­cern as a lar­ge num­ber of indi­vi­du­als con­ti­nue to be trap­ped on the islands in degra­ding conditions.

This leads to the con­clu­si­on that the imple­men­ta­ti­on of the EU-Tur­key ‚deal‘ has crea­ted a fil­ter that delays peop­le while trap­ping them into an inhu­man rea­li­ty in order to pro­du­ce a deter­rence effect for refu­gees at the exter­nal bor­ders of the Euro­pean Union.

Mean­while Euro­pean and natio­nal aut­ho­ri­ties have strug­gled to keep this toxic ‚deal‘ ali­ve poli­ti­cal­ly and legal­ly. They have insis­ted on this by uti­li­sing any means at their dis­po­sal and by demons­tra­ting seve­re dis­re­gard for the rule of law and the EU asyl­um acquis itself.

Natio­nal and Euro­pean aut­ho­ri­ties have mani­pu­la­ted legal pro­vi­si­ons and poli­ti­cis­ed the Greek asyl­um sys­tem to an into­le­ra­ble extent in order to gua­ran­tee the via­bi­li­ty of the deal. Indi­ca­tors to this dyna­mic have been visi­ble sin­ce very ear­ly on.

In June 2016, the then Greek Minis­ter for Migra­ti­on Poli­cy pro­po­sed an amend­ment that would alter the com­po­si­ti­on of the Asyl­um Appeals Com­mit­tees, after it had beco­me evi­dent that they were not wil­ling to com­ply with pres­su­res to pro­du­ce inad­mis­si­ble decisi­ons and thus ser­ve the momen­tum of the EU-Tur­key deal.

Fol­lowing the chan­ge in the com­po­si­ti­on of the Com­mit­tees and after the first inad­mis­si­ble decisi­ons were pro­du­ced, refu­gee rights lawy­ers chal­len­ged the EU-Tur­key-deal befo­re the Greek and Euro­pean courts. During that time, the Euro­pean and natio­nal aut­ho­ri­ties tried to crea­te a dyna­mic in favour of the deal by mani­pu­la­ting diplo­ma­tic assuran­ces and pre­sen­ting them as gua­ran­tees that Tur­key was pre­pa­red to con­form to the requi­re­ments of the deal.

In April 2016, the Per­ma­nent Repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of Tur­key had sent a let­ter to the Direc­tor-Gene­ral for DG Migra­ti­on and Home Affairs of the Euro­pean Com­mis­si­on whe­re the for­mer assu­red that Syri­ans retur­ned to Tur­key from Greece will have access to tem­pora­ry pro­tec­tion. Ano­t­her let­ter was send by Direc­tor-Gene­ral of DG Migra­ti­on and Home Affairs of the Euro­pean Com­mis­si­on to the Greek aut­ho­ri­ties in May 2016 with the pur­po­se of faci­li­ta­ting the imple­men­ta­ti­on of the ‚deal‘. This kind of abs­tract let­ters were rou­ti­nely pre­sen­ted as strong evi­dence that Tur­key is a ’safe third coun­try‘ while an incre­a­sing bulk of evi­dence from inde­pen­dent orga­ni­sa­ti­ons has offe­red evi­dence to the con­tra­ry. UNHCR’s decisi­on to stay silent about the vio­la­ti­ons of basic refu­gee rights in the name of EU-Tur­key ‚deal‘ – espe­cial­ly given the pre­sent regime in Tur­key – should not be immu­ne from criticism.

In Sep­tem­ber 2017, Greece’s Hig­hest Admi­nis­tra­ti­ve Court con­fir­med the Appeals Com­mit­tees‘ fin­dings on the case of two vul­nerable Syri­an asyl­um-see­kers that Tur­key is a ’safe third coun­try‘ for them. The low num­ber of indi­vi­du­als retur­ned to Tur­key so far (1554 by mid-Febru­a­ry) – when com­pa­red to the dama­ges it brought – rai­ses ques­ti­ons about the suc­cess of the ‘deal’.

The sup­por­ters of the ‘deal’ warn of the impact that ano­t­her mas­si­ve inf­lux will have on the sta­bi­li­ty of the Euro­pean Uni­on and the lives of the refu­gees trap­ped alrea­dy on the Greek islands.  What they for­get is that this ‚deal‘ has alrea­dy con­dem­ned thousands of peop­le to mise­ry, expo­sed vul­nerable per­sons to risks and made the Greek islands de-fac­to pri­sons for thousands. It has also signi­fi­cant­ly under­mi­ned one of the grea­test achie­ve­ments of refu­gee pro­tec­tion – the Refu­gee Con­ven­ti­on itself.

Refu­gee pro­tec­tion at the core of EU’s migra­ti­on poli­cy ins­tead of deal!

  • The mise­ry and suf­fe­ring of refu­gees on the Aege­an islands – con­scious­ly brought about in the name of Euro­pe – must end immediately.
  • Befo­re more deaths occur, it must final­ly be made pos­si­ble for all refu­gees to con­ti­nue their jour­ney to the Greek main­land. Time is essential!
  • Howe­ver, a genui­ne Euro­pean solu­ti­on, after decent accom­mo­da­ti­on on the main­land, must inclu­de the swift ope­ning up of safe and legal rou­tes for refu­gees from Greece to Euro­pe. It is very important that the more than five thousand stran­ded the­re must final­ly be gran­ted their right to fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­on as soon as possible.
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