Two year anniversary of the EU-Turkey Statement: No grounds for celebration

Global standards for the management of displacement and migration with the view to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility between States are being negotiated in New York within the framework of the UN-led global compact processes. At the same time the EU is celebrating the two year anniversary of a deal with Turkey that in many ways is the manifestation of the reverse policy trend: the outsourcing of protection responsibilities and migration control coupled with policies of deterrence and containment. The conditions for asylum seekers in the Greek islands is unacceptable and Europe cannot look away from its responsibility, the Danish Refugee Council said today at the two year anniversary of the EU-Turkey Statement.


The deal and its achievements are generally perceived by the European Commission and EU Member States as a success. Numbers of asylum seekers arriving to Greece as well as loss of life at sea on the Eastern Mediterranean route have substantially decreased, and onwards movements through the Western Balkans route have been reduced. All achievements ascribed to the EU-Turkey Statement. From a political perspective the deal is working.

Scratching the surface it is hard to find grounds for celebration. Dangerously overcrowded reception facilities, extensive use of detention, lack of safe spaces for vulnerable asylum seekers and children, reports of alarming rates of sexual harassment and violence against women, and deteriorating mental health among the asylum seekers due to the insecure environment and uncertainty about their future are the harsh reality on the Greek islands, where asylum seekers are kept for months while awaiting the decision on their asylum claims and potential return to Turkey under the deal.

DRC Secretary General, Christian Friis Bach, who visited the Moria site on Lesvos earlier this month says: “The situation for asylum seekers in Moria is unacceptable. More than 5,000 people are cramped together in a very small area and people have to sleep everywhere under horrible conditions. It is a result of policies that prioritize protection of borders over the protection of people. We have to do better.”

Apart from the deplorable conditions on the islands, a key protection concern is the lack of sufficient assurances of procedural safeguards, and the absence of appropriate monitoring of the conditions that deportees in Turkey are faced with when returned under the deal. With a predominant focus on ensuring swift identification, registration and return to Turkey, adjustments to the Greek asylum legislation have been pushed forward with the view to enable the full implementation of the deal, and allow for accelerating proceedings and increasing return rates. The focus on speed and the insistence on making the deal work - despite challenges with the application of the safe country concept - comes on the account of rights. There are information gaps on access to international protection, lack of legal assistance including at the appeal stage, restriction of freedom of movement and extensive use of detention.

DRC Country Director in Greece, Kyriakos Giaglis, says: “We call for an end to the containment policy that traps asylum seekers on the islands under undignified conditions, and reiterates that processing of asylum applications must take place in a safe and secure environment. To facilitate the transfer of asylum seekers off the islands increased capacity on the sites in the mainland through an improved and more effective shelter allocation are needed.”

There are no excuses for the deplorable and inhumane conditions, and the restrictions on procedural safeguards offered to people seeking protection in the EU. The situation on the islands and the substantial protection gaps are inherent in the policy and the result of strategies of containment and deterrence, rather than a temporary situation caused by an overburdened system.

Further, DRC calls for all legal safeguards to be fully respected in the admissibility procedure, and protection guaranteed in case of return. The continued implementation of the deal and its reliance on Turkey as a safe country must be based on a genuine assessment of the capacity and willingness of Turkey to adhere to international and European human rights safeguards. This counts for the EU-Turkey deal, but need also to be at the centre of discussions on the proposed expansion of the safe country concept in the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

And finally, although the deal may have contributed to decrease numbers crossing the Aegean Sea, it has not lowered the number of people in need of protection. While the humanitarian funding offered to Turkey as part of the deal, as well as the commitment to resettle vulnerable cases from Turkey to the EU are both positive elements aimed at addressing protection needs in Turkey, this does not exempt the EU for responsibility. Turkey has taken on a tremendous task by receiving and hosting 3,5 million Syrian refugees and granting legal status and access to services, but the sheer numbers of refugees are putting pressure on the system. The EU must contribute to improving refugee protection in regions of origin including in Turkey, without undermining the right to seek asylum in Europe, and commit to global responsibility for the sake of protection rather than with the view to controlling movements towards the EU.

“Good and sustainable solutions for refugees and migrants and effective approaches to the management of migration that respect people’s rights cannot be found if shortcomings and protection implications of current policies are willfully ignored. And the situation I witnessed on the Greek islands is simply unacceptable. We need to remember that all people have rights – human rights. Europe cannot run away from its responsibility for people seeking protection,” says Christian Friis Bach.

DRC launched its operation in Greece in November 2015, and has a regular presence in Moria, Lesvos with a protection and legal assistance capacity as well as with an operation on the mainland. DRC is also operational in Turkey since 2013 in the southeastern border areas (Kilis, Hatay and Urfa).

Related publications:

Joint NGO roadmap for more fair and humane policies: Transitioning to a Government-run refugee and migrant response in Greece (Dec 2017)

DRC research: Fundamental Rights and the EU Hotspot Approach (Oct 2017)

DRC position paper: Stocktaking of the EU-Turkey Statement (Oct 2016)