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EU/Greece: Hearing on Deal With Turkey

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Top Greek Court to Rule on Deportation Cases

(Athens, March 9, 2017) – Greece’s highest administrative court will hear a possible precedent-setting case on March 10, 2017, of two Syrian asylum seekers who risk being sent back to Turkey. The Syrians’ asylum claims were turned down under a European Union deal signed with Turkey in March 2016 to stem boat migration to Greece. On February 15, the lower chamber of the Council of State referred the case to the Grand Chamber for a definitive decision due to its importance.

Human Rights Watch will have a representative at the Council of State, in Athens, available for interviews.

To carry out the EU-Turkey deal, the Greek government instituted an accelerated border procedure designed to enable authorities to send people back to Turkey. The agreement is based on the flawed premise that Greece and the EU don’t need to evaluate the individual protection needs of those arriving via the Aegean Sea since Turkey is deemed a “safe third country” or “first country of asylum.”

No one has yet been forcibly returned to Turkey based on a finding that their asylum application was inadmissible because they could obtain effective protection in Turkey. Many of the initial decisions, in which asylum officers from other EU member states participate, have ruled such asylum claims inadmissible.

But prior to June 2016, Greek Asylum Appeal Committees consistently reversed inadmissible decisions and ruled that Turkey is not a safe country and that asylum applications should be admitted for regular examination on their merits in Greece. Following changes in June to their composition, appeal committees have declared Turkey a safe country for at least 17 asylum seekers, including the two Syrians whose case will be heard on March 10.

Although none have been forcibly returned, the Grand Chamber ruling could pave the way for large numbers of returns of asylum seekers to Turkey without first hearing their claims on the merits.

Turkey maintains a geographical limitation to the 1951 Refugee Convention that excludes non-Europeans from consideration for refugee status. Syrian refugees face obstacles to registration, access to education, employment, and health care, despite having access to temporary protection status. Others, including Iraqis and Afghans, do not have temporary protection status. Finally, Turkey’s border with Syria remains effectively closed.

“The Grand Chamber ruling will be a crucial test of the underlying basis of the EU-Turkey deal and the EU’s dubious claims that Turkey is capable of offering effective protection to refugees,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “For the two Syrian applicants, and many others in a similar situation, the stakes at the Grand Chamber couldn’t be higher.”

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