Caught in a Loop: The Narrowing Access to Asylum in Greece Since the EU-Turkey Statement
Updates Since our 2021 Report “Five years of the EU – Turkey Statement: Past, present and future”
March 2022 marks the anniversaries of several events that have been key in shaping today’s EU migration policy, and that have ultimately led to the restriction of access to asylum in Greece and the EU. On March 15th it will be 11 years since the war in Syria began, prompting a surge of displaced people arriving to Europe’s borders seeking safety. March 18th marks six years since the subsequent EU-Turkey Statement, wherein political leaders sought to address this surge, particularly at the entry point of the Eastern Aegean Islands. Finally, on March 16th it will be two years since readmissions to Turkey from the Islands, as envisioned by the EU-Turkey Statement, were suspended.
The EU-Turkey Statement describes itself as a “temporary and extraordinary measure”. Six years on not only is it still being relied on as a seemingly permanent measure, but its impacts have been expanded upon by the implementation of new restrictive asylum laws in Greece over the past two years.
Joint Ministerial Decision No. 42799/2021 (JMD) was adopted in June 2021 and designates Turkey as a “safe third country” for applicants from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The JMD applies to applicants of these five nationalities applying on the Eastern Aegean Islands under the border procedure, but also for applicants on mainland Greece applying under the regular procedure, representing an extension of who has their asylum claim examined on admissibility in practice. Given that in 2021, there were more land arrivals to Greece than arrivals by sea for the first time since the surge in arrivals began, this extension ensures that an even higher number of asylum seekers are caught under the JMD. On the Islands, applicants continue to be subject to a fast-track border procedure pursuant to Greek Law 4375/2016, and updated in Law 4636/2019. The combination of the high number of applicants caught under by the JMD, the examining of their applications on admissibility, and the fast-track border procedure covering the Islands (where these five nationalities make up a particularly high percentage of all applicants), converge to amount to an externalisation of the asylum procedure by Greece.
Fenix - Humanitarian Legal Aid calls on the Greek government to respect their national and international legal obligations as follows:
- Greece must thoroughly evaluate whether Turkey is a “safe third country” under its national and international obligations, and examine the available evidence of in-country conditions including problems accessing asylum and reports of forced deportations and pushbacks. The safe third country concept should not be applied until reasoned arguments have been established as to why the country is safe for applicants of international protection, and such arguments must be based on updated information. Until such a time, Greece must examine the applications of nationals from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan on the merits, ensuring the right to asylum under international law is respected and proper access to an asylum process is made available.
- In the current context, Greece must analyse the claims of asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Somalia on the merits as they are obliged to do under Article 38 (4) of EU Directive 2013/32 and Article 86 (5) of Greek Law 4636/2019, in light of the fact that Turkey is not accepting any returns of rejected asylum seekers and has not done so for two years. Access to asylum is enshrined in international law as a basic human right.
- The Greek authorities must address the humanitarian crisis that has been exacerbated as a result of the legal limbo prompted by the JMD, which may lead to large numbers of asylum seekers being “rejected” based on the “safe third country” concept. As highlighted by several organisations, there is evidence of large numbers of people going hungry in Greece today, or who are homeless as a result of their “rejected” status, many of whom are stuck in a legal limbo caused by repeated rejections based on admissibility.