News

18 March 2021

European Realities - 5 Years EU Turkey Deal

5 years ago, European leaders agreed with Turkey to send back protection seekers there. For 5 years, there have been closed EU Hotspots on the East Aegean islands. For 5 years, inhuman conditions have prevailed. For 5 years, human rights have been systematically ignored. For 5 years, no one has been interested in European law. That is an eternity. And yet there is no end in sight. Germany and Turkey are negotiating an extension. Greece feels ignored. As always, those who suffer under the conditions play no role at all, who are actually and systematically ignored in the negotiations are protection seekers. We could name the systematic failures at this point, as we do every year. Of course, the birthday of the EU Turkey deal is no reason to celebrate. The abstract discussion and the call for action to political leaders is exhausting.

We therefore decided to give an update from the Greek island of Kos, where we have been running an office since the beginning of the year. An island invisible in public discussion, home to the largest - and after the fire in Moria, the only - deportation prison. And where the rule of law is an empty phrase. Already three months have shown us how inescapably important it is for the authorities to be watched.


On Kos, the EU-Turkey deal is becoming a reality. The number of new arrivals is low, due to the Corona pandemic and also the mass so-called pushbacks. The conditions for those who have to stay on the island have not improved.

The deportation prison sits enthroned like a fortress next to the EU hotspot. The barbed wire, the cells, the police officers, the misery. Everything, like from horror stories about prison islands.

But Kos is not a prison island. When the world is not paralyzed by the Corona pandemic, the island is a vacation spot for hundreds of thousands. For others, it is a dead end. Once in Europe, more than a few are detained for over a year. Families, women - everyone.

In many ways, the situation on Kos perfectly captures the failures of the EU-Turkey deal. Although Greece has not been able to carry out deportations to Turkey since March 2020, authorities nonetheless continue to reject asylum seekers on the grounds that Turkey is a safe third country. Following a change in the Greek asylum law in January 2020, the practice has been to reject nearly all Syrian asylum seekers who apply for asylum in the island hotspots. For Syrians on Kos, the result in most cases is indefinite detention. The situation is maddening – on the one hand people are rejected on the grounds that Turkey is a safe third country and then detained pending their deportation, and, on the other hand, they cannot be deported to Turkey, a supposedly safe country.

In many cases, the consequences are tragic. In one case we represent, a young Syrian woman who is detained and faces permanent separation from her husband in Germany because of the situation for Syrian asylum seekers on Kos. Germany rejected her family reunification. We intervened to litigate the case in German courts. Because she is Syrian, Greece will almost certainly reject the young woman’s case and prolong her detention. Without a path forward in Greece, there is thus little prospect that she can reunite with her husband in the future.

On Kos, the failed policies of the EU-Turkey deal have left hundreds of people lingering in detention as they wait to be deported to a country that refuses to admit them.

At the same time, the summary rejections of asylum seekers in the border procedure on Kos, and of Syrians in particular, has eroded and undermined every stage of the asylum procedure. Caseworkers rush through interviews knowing that the decision will be negative; decisions are copy pasted from one to the next, and appeals are rejected at an astronomically high rate. This is true even in cases where Turkey quite clearly does not meet the legal definition of a safe third country. We currently represent a Syrian client who is gay and a survivor of gender-based violence. Although the interview should have focused on these facts, the caseworker instead made a point to rush through the procedure, failing to guarantee the client even his most basic procedural rights. When the client asked if he could discuss his sexual orientation, the caseworker responded by asking him how the subject was related to the client’s application for asylum. After the interview, the caseworker added statements to the transcript that neither he nor the client ever made. Even though the caseworker in this case acted in an exceptionally inappropriate way, he did so because he assumed that no one would ever question his work or hold him accountable. When the policy is simply to reject all Syrians, there is little incentive for authorities to pay attention to the actual law.

Few cases show: if persons are left alone, without legal representations and assistances, the administration in the EU Hotspots will work extra legal while not being watched. The European Court of Human Rights will examine the situation for a woman, a survivor of sexual and gender based violence who has been indefinitely detained on Kos soon. Alongside with cases from Chios, Lesvos and Samos out of which we represent three.

It is 5 years later. The situation remains devastating. And few political decision makers seem to care.


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