After Greece’s decision to designate Turkey as a safe third country for asylum seekers of five nationalities, INTERSOS and 37 organisations are calling for the withdrawal of this decision and the commitment of Greece and Europe to respect their asylum obligations
picture Martina Martelloni
“If you are an asylum seeker or a refugee in Greece today, at best you find yourself imprisoned in the tents of the Greek islands, at worst you can be sent back to Turkey as a “safe” country – Apostolos Vezis, Director of INTERSOS Hellas says – For years Greece and Europe “have been investing” in policies to “close the doors” to people in need of protection. Children, women, and men fleeing conflict, wars and discrimination are not considered welcome. As INTERSOS, who has been operating in Greece since 2016, we see the impact of these policies on the people we assist, we see their hopes shattered and their needless suffering”.
Following Greece’s decision to designate Turkey as a safe third country for asylum seekers of five other nationalities, INTERSOS, along with 37 other organizations operating in Greece, in a letter calls for the withdrawal of this unacceptable decision and appeals to Greece and to Europe to commit to respecting their asylum obligations.
The appeal of the organisations to Greece and Europe
Athens, 14 June 2021
With a new Joint Ministerial Decision (JMD) issued on 7 June, the Greek State designates Turkey as a “safe third country” for families, men, women, and children of five nationalities seeking international protection in Greece. It is noted that the JMD applies even to those from countries with high recognition rates for international protection, such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. This decision reinforces the policy established by the March 2016 EU-Turkey Statement that shifts the responsibility to protect refugees, including unaccompanied children, arriving in Europe to third countries.
For years, the effect of this externalisation policy has been to turn the Greek islands into a place of confinement for thousands of displaced and persecuted people, as authorities prioritised “containing” them on the islands to facilitate their return to third countries. This created places like Moria that became shameful symbols of Europe’s failure to protect refugees.
But the solution is not to send displaced individuals to Turkey. In Turkey, people seeking asylum from non-European countries – including the five nationalities in question – are not granted international protection per the 1951 Refugee Convention. People should not be returned to a country where their lives would be in danger, but multiple reports over recent years warn of the refoulement of refugees from Turkey, even to war zones in Syria. Furthermore, the concept of a “safe third country” presupposes the existence of an essential connection between the asylum seeker and that country, as well as the consent of the third country to receive the returnee. These conditions are not met in the case of Turkey.
The decision to designate Turkey as a “safe third country”, should be revoked for the aforementioned reasons. Furthermore, the unworkability of this new law is highlighted, since as far back as March 2020, Turkey is not accepting the return of refugees and asylum seekers from Greece. This has been pointed out by Greece’s Ministry of Migration and Asylum as well as the European Commission.
Refugees whose applications have been rejected as inadmissible according to the “safe third country” principle, are already enduring a situation of protracted legal uncertainty, social exclusion, destitution, homelessness, and even prolonged detention in Greece, which is at risk of turning into a prison. This JMD will serve only to increase the number of people in such a situation.
In fact, as has been pointed out in relevant interventions by the Greek Ombudsperson, and more recently in a reply by the Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission, in these cases applicants must be able to re-apply for asylum, and have their applications examined on their merits, in accordance with EU and national law.
In line with a recent announcement by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), our organisations stress that “externalisation simply shifts asylum responsibilities elsewhere and evades international obligations”. We once again call on the Greek and European authorities to honour their responsibility to protect refugees and to avoid further undermining the European asylum acquis and the fundamental principles and values for protecting human rights. To this end, we call on Greece to revoke the JMD issued on 7 June.
Action for education
ΑRSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth
Equal Rights Beyond Borders
Europe Must Act
Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid
Greek Council for Refugees (GCR)
Greek Forum of Migrants
Greek Forum of Refugees (GFR)
Greek Helsinki Monitor
Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR)
Human Rights Legal Project
Initiative for the Detainees’ Rights
Irida Women’s Center
Legal Centre Lesvos
Médecins du Monde – Greece
METAdrasi- Action for Migration and Development
Mobile Info Team (MIT)
Network for Children’s Rights
Network for the Social Support of Refugees and Migrants
Refugee Law Clinic Berlin
Refugee Legal Support (RLS)
Refugee Rights Europe (RRE)
Refugee Support Aegean (RSA)
Still I Rise
Terre des hommes Hellas