We’ve already marked the first anniversary of the EU-Turkey deal (18 March 2016) which has trapped thousands of people fleeing their homelands on the Greek islands. According to Human Rights Watch most have been denied access to asylum procedures and refugee protection. To mark this date, the organization released an assessment of these people’s conditions.
The organization has made repeated visits to these facilities and interviewed migrants and asylum seekers throughout the year. They witnessed the “detrimental impact of the deal on their human rights.”
To carry out the deal the Greek government adopted a containment policy in which asylum seekers are confined to the islands to facilitate their processing and return to Turkey.
But the mismanagement of aid funding, continued arrivals and slow decision making as well as Greek appeals committees rejecting summary returns to Turkey as unsafe have led to overcrowding and deteriorating conditions in the islands.
According to Eva Cossé, Greece researcher for HRW the deal “has been an unmitigated disaster for the very people it is supposed to protect.”
“Greek authorities should ensure that people landing on Greece’s shores have meaningful access to asylum and put an end to the containment policy for asylum seekers.”
The United Nations Refugee Agency UNHRC estimates the official and informal facilities of the five main islands, receiving asylum seekers and migrants, have a maximum capacity of 8,759 but as to March 14 there were 12,963 asylum seekers in the islands. Some of them have almost twice as many people as they are meant to serve which make them unable to cope with more arrivals.
Despite the assistance Greece has gotten from the European Union institutions and members states to keep humanitarian standards the European Commission has also pressured the country to weaken safeguards and speed up operations for transfers to Turkey, HRW said.
For example, an Action Plan published by the European Commission in December 2016 recommended tougher measures aimed at increasing the number of returns to Turkey. This included ending exemptions for vulnerable groups and expanding detention on the islands and curbing appeal rights. These recommendations were to be discussed in the Geek parliament in the previous weeks.
“Greece should resist EU pressure to weaken protections for vulnerable asylum seekers, to expand detention on the islands, to weaken appeal rights, and to send asylum seekers back to Turkey without first determining their protection needs,” Human Rights Watch said.
“If the EU is serious about preserving the right to seek asylum, it needs to take a hard look at how the failings of the EU-Turkey deal apply in practice,” Cossé added.
“A better-managed and rights-oriented approach by the EU would have put less of a burden on Greece and resulted in better protection and less suffering for thousands of people fleeing war and persecution,” she concluded.