29th Jan 2023

NGOs tell Athens that Turkey is not safe for refugees

  • Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees (Photo: European Parliament)
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European civil society organisations are demanding Athens no longer view Turkey as safe to return refugees.

A letter signed by 16 NGO says that Turkey is in violation of international law when it comes to asylum.

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Sent to the Greek ministry of migration and asylum, with the European Commission in copy, the letter further notes that Turkey no longer grants temporary protection status to Syrian refugees.

They also say Turkey is forcing people back into Syria, an accusation also levied by Human Rights Watch earlier this month.

Turkey, for its part, has dismissed those findings and has received some €4.7bn of EU funds to help support the 3.6 million Syrian refugee it currently hosts.

That money came from a 2016 deal between the EU and Turkey to prevent people from taking boats to Greece in exchange for political concessions. Turkey will no longer accept the returns of refugees from Greece under the deal.

Greece, on the other hand, wants to deport asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Somalia back to Turkey.

Athens had also last year adopted a joint ministerial decision determining that Turkey was safe enough for them, cutting short their asylum rights and claims.

But with Greece set to re-examine the designation of Turkey as a "safe third country" next month, the NGOs are hoping a recent European Commission report will convince Athens to reconsider its position.

The European Commission's report on Turkey in mid-October highlighted troubling developments in the country.

Although it noted Ankara had made improvements in terms of surveillance and protection of the land border with Iran, it also found Turkey "would no longer admit migrants into its territories."

Ankara had also stopped registrations of applications for international and temporary protection in several provinces.

The move comes ahead of a general election in Turkey next year and against a backdrop of growing xenophobia and backlash against refugees.

Similar criticisms were put forward by Human Rights Watch, which said Turkey was beating Syrian refugees back into northern Syrian enclaves.

The NGO then demanded that the European Commission make clear its position on Turkey.

Specifically, Human Rights Watch asked the European Commission to publicly clarify that Turkey is not a safe place.

Under EU law, a country cannot be considered safe if it forcibly pushes back people against their will into another country.

The same law also states that life and liberty must not be threatened and that there is no risk of serious harm.

But when asked by this website if Turkey adheres to those conditions [article 38 of EU Asylum Procedures Directive], the commission gave a mixed response.

It said that under the 2016 deal, Turkey's "legal framework on international protection can be considered as sufficient protection or protection equivalent to that of the Geneva Convention."

However, it also said Turkey remains bound to implement the 2016 deal in a way which ensures full protection of fundamental rights in line with the EU standards.

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