On Friday, Greece’s highest administrative court approved the forcible return of two Syrian asylum seekers to Turkey.
This decision not only determines the fate of 22-year old ‘Noori’ and 29-year-old ‘Afaaz’*, but also affects the future of hundreds of other refugees and asylum seekers affected by the EU-Turkey migration deal.
The deal, agreed in March 2016, stated that every person arriving irregularly on Greek islands – including asylum-seekers – should be returned to Turkey. In exchange, the Turkish government would receive €6 billion in aid from the EU, and nationals would be granted visa-free travel to Europe. Gestures were also made towards the future activation of resettlement schemes for Syrian refugees from Turkey to other European countries.
The deal, and Friday’s decision, is constructed on the flawed premise that Turkey is a safe country for refugees and asylum seekers. From instances of forced returns to countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, to refugees being subjected to violent attacks, rights groups have collected a substantial amount of evidence to show Turkey is not a safe country.
A leaked letter by from the UNHCR also noted that there were significant obstacles to monitoring the situation of Syrians returned to Turkey from Greece, sparking grave concerns about the treatment of returnees.
Since the coup attempt in July 2016 and the subsequent declaration of the state of emergency, the dangers faced by refugees and asylum seekers have only increased. Safeguards against forcible returns of refugees to places they may face persecutions have been further eroded. Last week, Amnesty International released a new report on unlawful returns from Turkey to Syria, which include cases of forced deportation and collective expulsions disguised as “voluntary returns”.
Friday’s ruling flies in the face of all this evidence, and establishes an ominous precedent insofar as it validates the assessment of Turkey as a safe country for refugees and asylum seekers. This not only endangers Noori and Afaaz, but also compromises the safety and rights of hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees currently in Greece.
In the words of John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, this decision breaches a very clear principle: “Greece and the EU should not be sending asylum-seekers and refugees back to a country in which they cannot get effective protection.”
“Until such time as asylum-seekers and refugees can be guaranteed effective protection in Turkey, EU countries must stop sending them there.”
* Names have been changed for protection purposes