The EU/NATO/Turkey pipeline that disappears refugees back to the war zones

Captured refugees on ship taken back to Turkey

In recent weeks evidence has emerged showing how the European Union may be complicit in the ‘disappearing’ of hundreds of displaced persons back to the Middle East war zones — an illegal practice known as refoulement — via EU-funded Turkish detention centres. And with the deployment of German-Turkish naval operations under the NATO umbrella in the Aegean, the final section of this refugee removal pipeline has been secured. EU and Turkish documentation regarding these detention centres is provided below, together with a report and commentary by Amnesty International on their true and very shocking role.

First, a recap… Two months ago Amnesty International published a damning report on civil rights abuses in Turkey. The report was called ‘Europe’s Gatekeeper’, a reference to Turkey’s role in deciding how many hundreds and thousands of refugees it will hold back or allow to enter Europe in its political bargaining stance with the EU. Indeed, Turkey appears to be winning: late last year the EU agreed to pay 3 billion euros to Turkey — which it designated as a ‘safe third country’ — to keep back refugees from crossing to Greece. The European Commission also agreed that by late 2016 all Turkish citizens will be able to move about Europe, visa-free — giving them defacto EU membership.

Further, last week, after a summit meeting between Germany’s Chancellor Merkel and Turkey’s President Erdogan, it was revealed that the Turkish and German navies (as part of a NATO initiative) are to patrol the Aegean, seeking out refugees to return to Turkey.

In the wider context, the EU has multiple schemes in place involving EU members to return (‘remove’) migrants from out of Europe — details here.

A. The EU-Turkey pipeline (documents)

‘Project Fiche’ — an agreement between the EU and Turkey on the management of refugees — has its roots in the National Action Plan, which was largely about humanitarian aid to refugee camps in Turkey. Last November the EU and Turkey agreed on a subsidiary plan to Project Fiche — a Phase II — that would provide funding for several detention centres in Turkey (and paid from out of the $3 billion euros).

Altogether six, possibly seven, Reception and two ‘Removal’ Centres are covered by the funding. Reception/Removal centres named in the document include: Kırklareli, Van, Kayseri, Gaziantep, Izmir, Erzurum, and Ankara. Each centre is expected to hold up to 750 detainees (around 5000 in total).

The Department of Foreigners, Borders and Asylum, the Turkish National Police, and the Ministry of Interior are listed in the Phase II document as the beneficiaries of the funding.

Here is the Turkish Government’s document on these detention centres. Here are the EU procurement documents (dating back to 2014) for the detention centres.

There is nothiing in any of these documents that hint that there is anything to be concerned with — although the term ‘Removal Centres’ provides a clue. Indeed, Phase II refers to the project as coming under “Justice Freedom and Security”. But an Amnesty International report revealed something very different…

B. Amnesty International report on centres

The Amnesty International report — which deserves to be read in full — was based on research conducted last October, November and December, including face-to-face and telephone interviews with more than 50 refugees and asylum-seekers who had been detained and some who had been deported from Turkey, and with their relatives. Researchers conducted interviews in Ankara, Bursa, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Osmaniye and Şanlıurfa.

The report provides evidence that shows how since September 2015the Turkish authorities have been rounding up hundreds of refugees onto buses and transported them, in some cases more than 1,000 kilometres, to the Project Fiche detention centres, where they are held incommunicado.

Some of the refugees reported to Amnesty how they were shackled for days on end and beaten. One 40 year old Syrian man told how he had been confined to a room alone in the Erzurum Removal Centre for seven days with his hands and feet shackled. “When they put a chain over your hands and legs, you feel like a slave, like you are not a human being”. There were many other abuses.

All of the detained refugees and asylum-seekers interviewed by Amnesty International explained how they were first taken into custody in Turkey’s western border provinces, including Edirne and Muğla, before being driven to isolated outposts in south or east Turkey. Most of them had said how they had intended to cross the Aegean to the EU.

Many of the refugees detained were sent to a camp in Düziçi, in Osmaniye province, or to the Erzurum Removal Centre, in Erzurum province — some locked up for two months. Refugees in the Erzurum detention centre were able to show Amnesty International labels attached to beds and cupboards that advertised the centre’s funding under the EU pre-accession programme — the very programme that is planning to allow Turkey to join the EU. Indeed, EU officials in Ankara later confirmed to Amnesty International that the six EU-funded open reception centres in Turkey — the ones outlined in the Action Plan, Phase 2 — are the same detention centres that are being used to hold displaced persons prior to their being transported — ‘disappeared’ — to war zone countries. Many of those detained have subsequently been deported to Syria or Iraq after being pressured to sign documents in Turkish, which they did not understand.

Both Turkish and international laws prohibit the deportation of people to a place where they would be at real risk of serious human rights violations. This principle — non-refoulement — can be breached in several ways, including directly through forcible returns to the country of origin, or indirectly when pressure is exerted on refugees to return to a place where their lives or freedoms are at risk–for instance through the threat of indefinite detention.

According to Amnesty, the detention described by dozens of refugees and asylum-seekers to Amnesty International was arbitrary, and therefore unlawful as per UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment no. 35, Article 9 (Liberty and Security of Persons).

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, commented: “By engaging Turkey as a gatekeeper for Europe in the refugee crisis, the EU is in danger of ignoring and now encouraging serious human rights violations. EU-Turkey migration-related cooperation should cease until such violations are investigated and ended.”

The EU is not only funding the detention centres (and turning a blind-eye to the abuses taking place in these centres) but via the NATOnaval operations in the Aegean is also ‘supplying’ the inmates to those centres — inmates who eventually end up back in the very conflict areas from which they fled.

The Amnesty report concludes:

“Given that they [the detention centres] coincide with the opening of negotiations around the Joint EU-Turkey Action Plan, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Turkey’s unlawful treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers caught attempting to leave irregularly has been triggered by the political and logistical demands exerted upon them by the EU to stop hundreds of thousands of people crossing a sea border with Greece of more than 700 km.”

See also:

  • Press announcement, signed by eleven NGOs, raising concerns about human rights violations in the Erzurum Aşkale Removal Centre.
  • Six month report, courtesy of Wikileaks, on Operation Sophia (NATO intervention against refugees fleeing Libya)


As for Turkey’s anticipated membership of the European Union — which Ankara has been seeking for many years — Europeans should ask themselves, do they really want an EU to include a country that is basically an authoritarian regime masquerading as a democracy and…

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Originally published at on February 19, 2016.

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