The highest Greek administrative court on 22nd September decided in the cases of two Syrian asylum applicants. According to the EU-Turkey-Deal they shall be returned to Turkey in application of the safe third country concept.
The court decision has to be seen as a precedent for the question whether Turkey can be considered a safe third country for Syrians even though the decision has to be taken for each individual case. This is because many general questions yet had to be answered by the court which could now influence future administrative and court decisions concerning returns of asylum seekers to Turkey. The court decided that the deportations were reasonable and did not refer the cases to the European Court of Justice for clarification of the safe third country concept. Many cases of other Syrian asylum applicants in Greece are currently pending. The consequence of the judgement could be a strong increase of the returns to Turkey.
The decision was taken with a tight majority. RLCA criticises the judgement and its occurrence for many reasons. The European Union has been exerting significant pressure on Greece and thus on the Greek jurisdiction – since the judgement on the deportation of the Syrian applicants of course was a judgement on the EU-Turkey-Deal and therefore a judgement on the political agenda of the EU. The European Commission clearly expressed this view in a letter to the Secretary-General Vasileios Papadopoulos in May 2016 in which it was declared that the Commission is convinced that Turkey could be considered a “safe third country” due to Turkish legal reform and therefore finally expressed the hope that “the Greek authorities will find these considerations […] useful for the carrying out of the individual assessments of whether to consider Turkey as a first country of asylum or as a safe third country […] for applicants for asylum who had irregularly crossed into the Aegean Islands via Turkey.“
Irrespective from the fact that such a political interference is morally dubious, it is moreover wrong from a legal point of view. Turkey is not a safe third country for Syrian refugees. Just to mention a few reasons:
- Since the coup in Turkey, the number of unlawful returns of Syrians from Turkey to Syria increased;
- Syrian refugees in Turkey are very often exposed to violence, in many cases even by state officials – one third of the Syrians RLCA has met report police violence or mistreatment;
- The living conditions of the most Syrian refugees in Turkey are often characterised by extreme poverty;
- Syrians that are being readmitted to Turkey face a risk of chain refoulement from Turkey;
- Turkey is in a state of emergency, which comes along with violations of civil and fundamental rights for both, Turkish citizens and Syrian refugees;
- Even the German government dissuades from holidays in Turkey;
- Finally, the perquisite of a residence permit that is in line with the Geneva Convention is not available for Syrian refugees in Turkey as a different legal regime applies to Syrian refuges in Turkey.
We call on Greece and the EU to stop implementation of the EU-Turkey-Deal and refrain from any forced returns to Turkey!