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AYS Special from Greece: 6 problems with the EU-Turkey Deal

It is 6 years since the EU Turkey deal came into effect and for a brief moment in March 2016 arrivals completely stopped. Since that time, however, thousands of people have arrived Greece and have been subject to the restrictive conditions imposed by the deal, reeking havoc with people’s lives. As Europe has suddenly collectively realised, people fleeing war have already survived enough, they should not be subject to further trauma at the hands of the state from which they ask for protection, and yet this is exactly what happens. Here are 6 of the main problems with it.

(Photo Credit: Vassilis Tsarnas)

It’s Racist

ARTICLE 3 NON-DISCRIMINATION The Contracting States shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.

The deal was only ever directed at people of colour from the global south. As soon as Europeans needed refuge alternative provisions were made and the Temporary Protection Directive was activated. When people from non European countries are returned to Turkey they cannot receive refugee status. Turkey only grants refugee status to Europeans. This creates a two tier immigration system based on your country of origin and the colour of your skin.

It’s Illegal

the refugee deal was made based on extremely limited and hasty legal analysis, the substance of which was not and has not been made public. The implications of this for the substance of the legal advice is clear: if the analysis confirmed that the agreement was legally sound, then the Commission would have had no problem in allowing its disclosure. — European Law Blog

On shaky ground from the beginning, much of the deal has been called into question regarding its legality and respect for universal rights and EU conventions. Under the 1951 Refugee Convention a person seeking asylum has a right to move within the territory of the country which is giving them protection. The island restrictions (geographical restrictions) brought in by the deal mean that people are unable to leave the camp they are registered in. This has lead to families being separated for years as well as a raft of other problems related to being unable to escape living conditions, abusive situations etc. This has been further tightened by the Government limiting cash support to people living in camps.

ARTICLE 26. FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT Each Contracting State shall accord to refugees lawfully in its territory the right to choose their place of residence and to move freely within its territory, subject to any regulations applicable to aliens generally in the same circumstances.

It also relies on what has become indefinite detention as Turkey has not taken any returnees since the start of the pandemic.

It traps people in unsafe places

The island camps have a high level of self harm and suicide attempts, they are prone to fires, the food has been repeatedly described as inedible, there is limited access to mental and physical healthcare and this has directly led to deaths. The new closed and controlled centres continue to have these problems as a recent report from the Greek Refugee Council and Oxfam highlights:

Approximately 1 in 5 people have been in de facto detention for two months. This is despite a Greek court finding this practice illegal in the ruling on a case of an Afghan resident in the Samos center last December. The Greek administration continues to deny this illegal practice. Yet, testimonies gathered by the Greek Council for Refugees and Oxfam show this practice remains very much a reality.

The use of “revenge tactics” in response to NGO reports, media coverage, and legal action by asylum seekers on illegal detention measures. This has included early morning raids, unexplained transfers to the police station, and oral eviction notices to residents appealing a negative asylum decision.

The excessive use of security. There is constant CCTV monitoring of all residents and an 8pm curfew. To exit and enter the camp, residents need an “asylum applicant” card. Some people — like the newly arrived, those who can’t afford the second subsequent asylum application fee, or those waiting for the Greek authorities to examine their subsequent asylum application — do not have this card. In the future, not having these cards may keep people from getting food and clothes.

Its logic is flawed

It is based on deterrence as a form of border control which fails to understand the reasons people leave home and are seeking protection and the risks which people will take in order to seek safety. Deterrence tactics in Greece include the possibility of death, pushback and the withholding of liveable conditions. Deterrence tactics relay on the person travelling to the territory to be aware that these policies are in place and suggest that people organise in an organised manor which allows time for the consideration of such possibilities as the EU country you seek safety in may not house, feed, clothe or educate you — if you are coming from the global south…

It casts Turkey as a safe country

The EU-Turkey Statement and subsequent designation of Turkey as a ‘safe third country’ are both efforts to limit access to a fair and effective asylum procedure — Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, Country Director for IRC Greece

In June 2021 Turkey was designated a safe third country by Greece for people fleeing from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria. People from these countries now face an admissibility interview. If they cannot prove they were at risk in Turkey their claim is not looked at regardless of why they fled. This has further destroyed the asylum process in Greece while potentially forcing people back to Turkey where there are high instances of racists attacks, child labour, and a declining situation for women and LGBTQI+ people. They have also deported hundreds of people to Syria.

It takes away people’s right to choose their own futures

Since the war began in Ukraine there has been no mention of people staying in the first safe country they arrive to. It has been widely accepted that people would naturally travel to a country where they had family or friends with whom they could stay and build a life. Both island restrictions — some people are trapped there for years and many are also detained and not even allowed to leave the camp — and deportation to Turkey prevent people from joining their support networks, the people that would help them heal. As it stands, it may be years until they can be reunited with the people they love. It may never happen at all.

The answer? Treat everyone like humans. End the global mobility apartheid.

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Are You Syrious?

Are You Syrious?

Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.