The EU-Turkey deal has turned Greece into a testing ground for European Union policies that are eroding the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, and expose people to risk and abuse, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), and Oxfam said today. The humanitarian agencies warned the deal is causing human suffering and should under no circumstances be replicated with other countries.
Monday 20 March 2017 will mark one year since the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal which allows Europe to return asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey, outsourcing their responsibilities to protect people who come to Europe in search of safety.
In a new report, the three organisations showcase how vulnerable people are forced to live in degrading conditions, and it outlines the many ways in which asylum seekers are barred from exercising their right to a fair asylum process.
“The EU-Turkey deal is playing roulette with the futures of some of the world’s most vulnerable. It has become mission impossible for those who need it most to seek refuge in Europe,” said Panos Navrozidis, the IRC’s Country Director in Greece.
The right of refugees to have their individual asylum claims examined is crucial to protect people against being returned to a place where they may be at risk, as enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, on the Greek islands, the primary focus is on whether people can be returned without assessing their individual case. People fleeing the war in Syria, for instance, need to go through an “admissibility” procedure, which does not assess the individual reasons why people were forced to flee.
The report highlights major gaps in critically needed legal counselling and assistance to navigate the confusing, constantly changing asylum procedures. For example, it was decided at a certain point that unaccompanied children could no longer prove their age with an original birth certificate; instead they were requested to present passports or national ID cards – even in cases where such documents are not issued to children under 18 years.
As a result, asylum seekers are forced to navigate the lengthy and drawn-out process with little to no assistance, while they are exposed to further rights violations and often appalling conditions. Making matters worse, there are significant concerns about the expertise and quality of interviews conducted by European Asylum Support Office staff sent by EU countries to support Greece, as well as significant concerns also about lack of oversight of the process.
“Following the EU-Turkey deal, basic human rights and the rights of people in need of asylum are being trampled on. Europe has set a dangerous precedent and we fear that it will be all too easy for other countries to also shirk their responsibility in providing international protection,” said Nicola Bay, Country Director for Oxfam in Greece.
Over the course of the last year, asylum seekers on the Greek islands were, and continue to be, sheltered in tents, even during freezing winter weather. Children, women and men continue to be exposed to risks to their health and wellbeing, and many have limited access to basic services such as medical and psychological support to help overcome trauma.
“The EU justified its agreement with Turkey as a temporary response to an emergency situation. People fleeing war and persecution have been met with uncertainty and a lack of necessary legal support to prepare for interviews which will seal their fate”, said Gianmaria Pinto, Country Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council.