A new plan to tackle unprecedented refugee flows to Europe, mooted by the Dutch Presidency of the European Union today, is fundamentally flawed since it would hinge on illegally returning asylum seekers and refugees from Greece to Turkey, Amnesty International warned.
Plans to label Turkey a “safe third country” in order to ferry back tens of thousands of people from Greece without due process or access to asylum application procedures would blatantly violate both European and international law.
“No one should be fooled by the humanitarian sheen of this fundamentally flawed proposal. It is political expediency, plain and simple, aimed at stopping the flows of desperate people across the Aegean Sea,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International.
“Any resettlement proposal that is conditional on effectively sealing off borders and illegally pushing back tens of thousands of people while denying them access to asylum procedures is morally bankrupt. The pan-European response to the global refugee crisis has long been in disarray, so solutions are needed, and fast. But there is no excuse for breaking the law and flouting international obligations in the process.”
Under international law, vulnerable people fleeing conflict and persecution must not be denied access to protection and have a right to have their asylum claims considered.
If the plan goes ahead, as soon as this spring, EU countries would begin considering Turkey a “safe third country,” a designation which would lead to them pushing back all asylum-seekers intercepted on the sea crossing to Greece. Amnesty International warned these would amount to illegal push-backs under international law.
In return for Turkey accepting those who are pushed back, a core group of EU countries would voluntarily resettle between 150,000 and 250,000 refugees currently hosted in Turkey.
There are serious concerns about the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey. The country hosts an estimated 2.5 million Syrian refugees and 250,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries including Afghanistan and Iraq. Asylum applications for non-Syrians are rarely processed in practice.
In addition, Amnesty International has documented how, since September 2015, in parallel with EU-Turkey migration talks, the Turkish authorities have unlawfully rounded up scores – possibly hundreds – of refugees and asylum-seekers. They have been herded onto buses and transported more than 1,000 kilometers to isolated detention centers where they have been held incommunicado. Some report being shackled for days on end, beaten and forcibly transported back to the countries they had fled.
“Turkey cannot possibly be considered a safe country for refugees. It is not even a safe country for many of its own citizens. In recent months refugees have been illegally returned to Iraq and Syria, while refugees from other countries face years in limbo before their applications will ever be heard,” said Dalhuisen.
“A large-scale resettlement scheme for refugees from Turkey to the EU is a good idea, but making it conditional on the swift return of those crossing the border irregularly is tantamount to bartering in human lives.
“In recent years, blocking one route to Europe has inevitably led to refugees taking another, often more dangerous, route to seek protection. Offering safe, legal routes to Europe is the only sustainable solution for the refugee situation.”
While the full plan has yet to be made public, the Dutch social-democrat leader Diederik Samsom revealed some details in an exclusive interview today with the national newspaper De Volkskrant. The Netherlands currently holds the EU presidency and is seeking backing for the proposal from other EU member states.