Thursday

27th Apr 2017

Turkey denies protection to returning Syrians

A migrant swap deal with Ankara is progressing well despite returning Syrians being denied guaranteed protection status in Turkey, says the EU commission.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters on Wednesday (28 September) that "adequate standards" were in place for those returned under the March deal.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But earlier in the day, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said not a single Syrian returned from Greece has been granted any temporary protection status, despite the "formal guarantees" under the EU's deal with Ankara.

"As we speak today, none of the Syrians that have returned to Turkey have got temporary protection," Vincent Cochetal, UNHCR's Europe director, told this website.

Turkey is also supposed to allow the UN agency access to facilities where the returning Syrians are temporarily sheltered.

But access to the centre has been blocked since a failed military coup in July.

"We thought we had permission, we were not given access. For us that is an important aspect of the safeguards," he said.

Speed up returns

Instead, Avramopoulos said they intended to "speed up returns" when asked how the fate of returned Syrians in Turkey and the UN agency blockade complies with his definition of "adequate standards".

"The situation within Turkey is exactly as it was before. Turkish authorities are providing Syrians with their support and help," he told Euobserver.

But the UNHCR is sending out an entirely different message.

Cochetal said the returnees were being forced through a security screening process that was taking too long.

"Those security screenings should take in principle one month but are taking a much longer period of time," he said.

The issue poses larger questions over the EU legal claim that Turkey is a safe country for people returned from Greece.

People that cross the Aegean sea to Greece are shuffled under the scheme's 'inadmissibility' category. Inadmissibility means the substance of a person's claim to asylum is not scrutinised by Greek authorities.

Instead, the Greeks probe to see if Turkey is deemed a "safe third country", or a place that provides what Avramopoulos has described in vague terms as "adequate standards".

Greek authorities will be even more hard pressed to return any Syrian if Turkey denies them temporary protection status as promised.

Out of the 578 who have ended up back in Turkey under the scheme, only 51 are Syrians. And they volunteered to go back.

"It is possible that they [Syrians] gave up after months and weeks of waiting on the islands," Karl Kopp, director of the German-based NGO Pro Asyl, told this website earlier this month.

The NGO represented nine Syrians in Greece facing deportation to Turkey in April. The Greek administrative appeals committee found that Turkey was not a "safe third country" for Syrian refugees.

Conditions dire on Greek islands

To add to the woes, thousands of people are stuck on the Greek islands with reports surfacing of suicides and fights. Strikes among aid workers are also reported given the poor conditions and insecurity.

Less than five percent of asylum claims by Afghans and Iraqis on the islands have been processed, says the UN. And none have had their claims registered in the past six months.

Another 47,000 are stranded on the Greek mainland. The vast majority are from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Around 7,500 of those are in apartments or in hotels. The rest are living in camps where women and girls risk violence.

"Women and girls are living in a constant state of insecurity and fear," said Iverna McGowan at Amnesty International's EU office. Basic measures like proper lighting, separate toilets and showers, are often absent.

Yet, since last year, Greece has been granted some €352 million in emergency funds from the EU commission to address the short comings. But administrative complications and bottlenecks on the Greek side means €90 million has been awarded to the government.

The bulk is going to aid agencies and NGOs.

Greece has also been returning Moroccans to Turkey, mostly by bus through land border crossing points by hundreds, under a separate bilateral readmission agreement it has with Ankara.

EU funds for Bulgaria target border security

Reception and detention facilities in Bulgaria are in poor shape but most of the €108-million emergency aid package announced by the EU commission will go to border security and surveillance.

EU willing to keep contact with Turkey

The European Commission said it was "gravely concerned" by arrests of political leaders, but is not considering suspending accession talks.

EU stands aside as Hungary detains migrants

Commission is withholding action on Hungary's detention of asylum seekers, even as the Hungarian government tries to "stop Brussels" on immigration policy.

Austria wants out of EU migrant relocations

Austria is required to start relocating asylum seekers from Italy and Greece after an exemption to the scheme ended on 11 March. But Austria's chancellor has other ideas and wants the exemption prolonged.

News in Brief

  1. EU parliament moves to lift Le Pen's immunity
  2. EU Commission launches probe into Hungary's university law
  3. Scots slowly losing appetite for independence - poll
  4. Council of Europe puts Turkey on watch list
  5. EU to put parental leave on political agenda
  6. Israel cancels German meeting over human rights groups
  7. Hungary's Orban will participate in EU parliament debate
  8. Malta floats cash-for-refugees plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  3. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  4. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  5. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  6. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  7. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  8. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  10. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  11. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  12. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children

Latest News

  1. EU starts legal action against Hungary
  2. Brexit is about Europe's future as well
  3. Power struggle in Greenland: Three reasons why the EU should care
  4. Nordic and Baltic countries step up digitalisation efforts
  5. European states still top media freedom list
  6. Let’s not put European public health at risk
  7. Threatened Budapest university calls for EU support
  8. Orban set to face down EU threats