PRO ASYL categorically opposes plans by the Dutch and possibly the German government to ferry asylum seekers from Greece back to Turkey. “Turkey is not a safe third country. Through these actions, refugees’ human rights are effectively suspended,” says Günter Burkhardt, PRO ASYL’s managing director. Turkey would become “Europe’s refugee camp, and the human rights of refugees would be rendered invalid. The EU bends reality to fit its purposes. It would amount to Europe’s collective withdrawal from refugee protection.”
The intended illegal pushbacks of refugees from Greece to Turkey would violate European and international law. The gravity of the situation in Turkey is played down, along with the brutal consequences for those seeking protection. The human right to asylum would effectively be suspended.
Asylum seekers who are pushed back to Turkey face human rights abuses and even deportation to crisis areas such as Syria or Iraq. Since the EU and the Turkish government passed their action plan on November 29, 2015, arbitrary arrests of refugees, mistreatment in detention centres and illegal deportations and refoulement to Syria and Iraq have been documented in Turkey. PRO ASYL asserts that returning asylum seekers to Turkey amounts to illegal rejections that contravene the 1951 Refugee Convention’s principle of non-refoulement, as well as European and international law.
While Turkey has ratified the Refugee Convention, to date it retains so-called “geographical boundaries”. This means that only asylum seekers from Europe can be recognised as refugees by Turkey itself. Everyone else can de facto expect no protection, no social support, and only very limited access to the labour market and health service. Turkey, therefore, cannot be a “safe third country”, as countries can only be designated as such if the 1951 Refugee Convention is implemented without restrictions. Refugees who travel to Europe via Turkey must not be sent back there. It follows from this fact alone that it would be unlawful to declare Turkey a safe third country.
According to Article 38 of the Asylum Procedures Directive, in a “safe third country” refugees must have the opportunity to apply for recognition of refugee status and receive protection according to the 1951 Refugee Convention. While the UNHCR does engage in proceedings according to the Refugee Convention in Turkey, these proceedings do not lead to protection status for refugees by the Turkish state. Refugees are merely given the opportunity to take part in UNHCR’s resettlement programme and to be reallocated to another state (Article 62 of the Turkish asylum law).
Independently of the legal assessment of the situation, the past few weeks have also seen a clear intensification of Turkey’s internal political struggles. Turkey is neither a safe country of origin nor a safe third country for those seeking protection.