Türkiye + 3 more

EU-Turkey Agreement Failing Refugee Women and Girls



In 2015, more than one million refugees and migrants fleeing war, persecution, gender-based violence and other crises arrived in Europe in search of safety and asylum. Some 240,000 have arrived in 2016, so far. Most of them made the perilous voyage across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, traveling onward toward Western Europe. While all of these refugees face risks, women and girls especially have experienced sexual assault, extortion, exploitation and rights violations at every stage of their traumatic journey. They include single women traveling alone, female-headed households, pregnant women, adolescent girls, unaccompanied minors and women with disabilities.

Throughout this mass migration to and through Europe, there have been significant and alarming gaps in protection and services for refugee women and girls. At every point where risk could have been mitigated, the humanitarian response has been woefully inadequate.

The situation for refugees has become even more complex and precarious since March 20, 2016, when the European Union and Turkey launched a highly politicized plan to reduce the flow of refugees into Europe. A key part of the deal centers on detaining new arrivals in Greece and containing refugees already there, as determinations are made as to whether refugees are given asylum in Greece, sent back to Turkey or resettled in an accepting European country.

While urgent action was needed to better manage the crisis, the Women’s Refugee Commission finds the deal short-sighted, discriminatory and legally-dubious, with profound and distressing ramifications for refugees seeking asylum and family reunification in Europe, particularly women and girls.

After the deal was announced, Greece was forced to turn its reception centers into detention centers almost overnight. Dilapidated factories, warehouses and other sites unfit for human habitation were quickly converted into camps for more than 50,000 refugees now stranded there. Half of these refugees in Greece are women and children and many are attempting to reunite with husbands, fathers and other relatives who traveled ahead to other countries in Europe.

The sites set up for refugees are congested, unsanitary and lack adequate food supplies, water, toilets and showers. Some treat residents like prisoners and restrict their mobility. Little consideration has been given to the safety and protection needs of women and girls in site design or the response as a whole, including measures to reduce risks of gender-based violence (GBV). Scant assistance is available for GBV survivors or other vulnerable refugees, including pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and children. Many experienced and ready-to-assist local and international aid groups on the ground have been sidelined.

The absence of a clear and sufficiently-resourced and staffed legal protection system in Greece only compounds refugees’ misery and anxiety. Refugee families are in the dark about their options, status and rights due to poor access to information, legal counsel and basic help, as the Greek asylum system struggles to scale up. Aid and legal help are often limited to those of certain nationalities, leaving out many others in desperate need of assistance and protection.

The EU-Turkey agreement stipulates that Turkey will take back a large number of migrants from Greece despite serious concerns that Turkey may not be a safe third country under EU and international law and policies. Recent political insecurity deepens these concerns. While there have only been a small number of returns to date to Turkey, these refugees are being placed into detention centers with distressingly little access to medical, psychosocial, legal and other critical services.

While the EU-Turkey plan has slowed boat crossings, thereby curbing the flow of asylum seekers into Western Europe as intended, it is nothing short of a protection and legal disaster for refugees, particularly women and girls. It is time for Europe’s politics of exclusion to end. The European Union must finally step up and provide meaningful protection to asylum seekers, now and in the future. The Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) asserts the following for refugees of all nationalities:


The European Union and Member States should:

  1. End policies that result in discrimination of refugees by nationality and unequal access to legal protections such as asylum, family reunification and relocation.

  2. Expedite family reunification cases and ensure legal protection mechanisms and policies that are gender-sensitive and respect family ties.

  3. Increase existing financial, material and human resources to help the Greek and Turkish asylum systems to fairly and expeditiously adjudicate legal claims and deliver needed humanitarian services.

  4. Boost financial, material and human resources to safeguard female asylum seekers and improve their access to reproductive health, psychosocial care, aid for GBV survivors and safe spaces.

  5. Increase oversight over current and future assistance to ensure that Greece and Turkey respect the rights and meet the needs of refugees, regardless of nationality or other status.

  6. Adhere to international and EU laws that bar the return of refugees to unsafe countries.

  7. Clarify processes and rapidly increase the timely and fair acceptance and relocation of refugees.

  8. Invest in, establish, implement and enforce comprehensive, effective and rightsrespecting EU-wide asylum and integration policies.

The Greek Government should:

  1. Establish maternal, newborn, reproductive health, child health and mental health services in all refugee sites and deploy cultural mediators and interpreters there and in referral hospitals.

  2. Ensure GBV survivors have access to specialized medical and psychosocial support, safe spaces and women’s shelters.

  3. Vastly increase the availability and accessibility of health, psychosocial, legal support, women’s protection and information point persons at all sites, ensuring proper identification of cases and referrals, with consideration of cultural and linguistic needs.

  4. Coordinate closely with UNHCR and humanitarian organizations on the improvement, designation and coordination of sites and services available at them, ensuring that all refugees, particularly vulnerable women and girls, can access the assistance they need.

  5. Close or upgrade sites that do not meet minimum security standards, in coordination with UN agencies and NGOs. All sites should be built or adapted for compliance with IASC Guidelines on GBV Interventions in Humanitarian Settings and the Sphere Standards.

  6. Build the capacity and resources of the Greek Asylum Service to ensure the timely and fair review of asylum claims as well as requests for family reunification or relocation. Ensure refugees have information about legal options and processes in a language they understand.

  7. Simplify and streamline administrative requirements and decision-making processes to reduce bureaucratic delays.

  8. Establish alternatives to detention that respect social and economic rights. No asylum seekers should be detained unless the government can demonstrate that an individual poses a risk to public safety.

The Turkish Government should:

  1. Implement rights-respecting laws and policies that ensure refugees have equal access to legal protection, regardless of nationality.

  2. Facilitate access to legal information and assistance, including to medical services, education, and other social support.

  3. Cease detaining refugees. No asylum seekers should be detained unless the government can demonstrate that an individual poses a risk to public safety