On 18th and 19th February, the Heads of the EU Member States will meet in Brussels. In preparation for this meeting, the European Commission has published documents that provide the Heads of States with arguments their decisions of the summit will be grounding on (State of Play of Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration, Commission Recommendation addressed to Greece and EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan – Implementation Report).
The Commission advocates the resumption of Dublin transfers to Greece and the declaration of Turkey as a “safe third country” for refugees and protection seekers. PRO ASYL accuses the Commission to be in denial of the realities in Greece and Turkey. “Without any regard for consequences, the reality on the ground is sugarcoated down to politically desired results,” says Günter Burkhardt, director of PRO ASYL.
PRO ASYL still observes an utter lack of a functioning protection and reception system in Greece conforming to human rights standards. At the same time, thousands of refugees arrive in Greece – according to UNHCR, there were more than 65.000 new arrivals in January 2016 alone. And yet the Commission calls for the resumption of Dublin transfers to Greece: “Greece should therefore as a matter of urgency undertake all the necessary steps to allow a resumption of Dublin transfers” (Point 23). The Commission has sent a long list of recommendations to the Greek government in order to take steps to achieve this. This list focuses particularly on the need for reception capacities, access to the asylum procedure, legal aid and legal remedies. Greece is asked to report on the measures taken by March. Then the state of play will be reevaluated.
Numerous reports – including report at hand by the Commission itself – prove that the conditions for protection seekers in Greece remain desolate. Around 2.000 protection seekers still reach the Greek Islands on a daily basis. Resuming transfers from other EU Member States to Greece will aggravate the humanitarian crisis on the ground. Instead of providing asylum seekers with safe and legal passage to other EU Countries, the Commission puts massive pressure on Greece.
Turkey: no safe country for refugees
In its communication on Turkey, the Commission sets the stage for declaring Turkey as a “safe third country” in order to legitimize readmissions. In doing so, the Commission twists fundamental refugee laws beyond recognition by saying that “the Commission underlines that the concept of safe third country as defined in the Asylum Procedures Directive requires that the possibility exists to receive protection in accordance with the Geneva Convention, but does not require that the safe third country has ratified that Convention without geographical reservation” (page 18).
For PRO ASYL it is clear: the already problematic concept of a “safe third country” is thus reduced to absurdity. According to Article 38(1)(e) of the Asylum Procedures Directive 2013/32/EU, it is crucial that “the possibility exists to request refugee status and, if found to be a refugee, to receive protection in accordance with the Geneva Convention”. However, the geographical reservation
upheld by Turkey means that only nationals of a European state can apply for and receive international protection in Turkey.
Refugees in Turkey risk the violation of their human rights and even deportations to conflict areas like Syria and Iraq. Since the ratification of the Joint Action Plan by the European Union and the Turkish government on 29 November 2015, there have been reports on arbitrary arrests of refugees and their maltreatment within detention. In December, Amnesty International published its report „Europe´s Gatekeeper. Unlawful detention and deportation of refugees from Turkey“. According to this documentation, Turkish officials have started intercepting protection seekers trying to transit from Turkey to Greece since September 2015. Many of the concerned persons are from Syria and Iraq and were brought to the detention center in Osmaniye and the removal center in Erzurum.
Illegal deportations and readmissions back to Syria and Iraq were also documented. In October 2015, Human Rights Watch interviewed 51 Syrian refugees who had come to Turkey only recently. The refugees described how they were deported illegally to Syria or witnessed how others were deported, partly by brutal force. These reports demonstrate clear violation against the prohibition of expulsion of the Geneva Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.