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Turkey as a ‘safe third country’

Inês Avelãs - Advocacy Officer Fenix


On 7 June 2021 (Monday), the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, presented the new Joint Ministerial Decision No 42799/2021 [1], which recognizes Turkey as a safe third country for nationals of Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia.[2]


But, what does it mean to be a safe third country in the European Union? The 'safe third country' concept (STC) allows authorities of a Member State to consider an asylum application as inadmissible where asylum seekers could have found protection in another country [3]. Thus, this concept has been used to refuse to assess material facts (the merits) of asylum applications based on the argument that it is the responsibility of another state. In simple terms, this rule means that their application for asylum can be rejected through expedited procedures as “inadmissible” on the grounds that Turkey is safe for them, readmitting (deporting) them back to Turkey without analyzing the merits of their claim; whether they are safe in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan or Bangladesh.


Article 38 of the Asylum Procedure Directive establishes that a third country can be considered safe where in that country:

  • The life and liberty of the applicant are not threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion;

  • There is no risk of serious harm as defined in the Qualification Directive [4];

  • The principle of non-refoulement in accordance with the Geneva Convention is respected;

  • The prohibition of removal is respected;

  • Exists the possibility of applying for refugee status and the possibility of receiving protection in accordance with the Geneva Convention.


Additionally, to establish that a specific country is safe for a particular asylum seeker, it is also required:

  • The existence of a connection between the applicant and the third-country national;

  • Individual examination of whether the particular applicant will be safe in that specific third country.


As developed in Fenix's Five years of the EU-Turkey Statement: Past, present and future Report [5], as a result of the maintenance of the geographical limitation for asylum applications in non-European countries, the arbitrary discretion in the registration of the application of international and temporary protection, the reported practice of arbitrary detention and illegal deportations, and lack of access to housing and medical care, it cannot be concluded that the classification of Turkey as a STC, and it is compatible with European law, specifically Articles 33 and 38 of the Asylum Procedure Directive. Moreover, the Joint Ministerial Decision No 42799/2021 did not establish on national law the methodological rules for the individual assessment of the STC concept to the specific case, as expressly required by Article 38(2) of the Asylum Procedure Directive.


In May 2021, a new AIDA Country Report on Turkey was published [6]. This new report confirmed the obstacles and problems of the international and temporary protection referred to above (as access to the registration and basic services, or arbitrary detention and deportations) [7]. It also established how it became almost impossible to apply for international and temporary protection in 2020 and its consequences in the access to essential services during this period.[8]


At the same time, since March 2020, Turkey has refused to accept anyone from the Greek islands. At the beginning of 2021, Greece submitted a request to the European Commission and Frontex for the immediate return to Turkey of 1.450 Syrians whose asylum application was considered inadmissible for coming from a safe third country [9]. After an initial refusal, Turkey accepted to receive the 1.450 Syrians.[10] Despite the acceptance, no one was transferred.


Additionally, in the answer of Ms Johansson, on behalf of the European Commission, to the question on readmissions between Greece and Turkey made by Erik Marquardt, a Member of the European Parliament.[11] Ms Johansson clarifies that in line with Article 38(4) of the Asylum Procedure Directive, "'where the third country does not permit the applicant to enter its territory, Member States shall ensure that access to [an asylum] procedure is given' [...], [and] applicants whose application has been declared inadmissible are therefore able to apply again".[12] In line with this statement, Greece should accept the applications of the Syrians and analyze the merits of their claims in Greece. Nevertheless, the new law not only reinforces the precarious legal situation of Syrian asylum seekers, but it also expands it to applicants of other nationalities.


In 2020, 40.560 new asylum applications were registered in Greece [13]. From these asylum applications, 26.730 (66%) were from nationals of Syria (7.765)[14], Afghanistan (11.520),[15] Pakistan (4.145)[16], Bangladesh (1.760)[17] and Somalia (1.540)[18], which are mostly countries with high recognition rates. This policy will leave thousands of people in legal limbo, reinforce the externalisation of international protection obligations, and jeopardise even more the Greek and European asylum system.


Despite the Joint Ministerial Decision No 42799/2021 was just announced on 7 June 2021, there are already occurring admissibility interviews (interviews regarding Turkey and not the country of origin) to people who arrived before the publication of this new legislative document. The exact consequences are still unknown, nevertheless it is expected that the number of applications considered as inadmissible will be extremely high, and the number of asylum seekers receiving international protection will be extremely low.


In line with the 1951 Refugee Convention, we call on the Greek Government and European authorities to respect fundamental rights, and the Greek Government retrocede on implementing the new Ministerial Decision.


[1] Κοινή Υπουργική Απόφαση 42799/2021 - ΦΕΚ 2425/Β/7-6-2021, Καθορισμός τρίτων χωρών που χαρακτηρίζονται ως ασφαλείς και κατάρτιση εθνικού καταλόγου, κατά τα οριζόμενα στο άρθρο 86 του ν. 4636/ 2019 (Α' 169), Available at: https://www.e-nomothesia.gr/kat-allodapoi/prosphuges-politiko-asulo/koine-upourgike-apophase-42799-2021.html

[2] Ministry of Migration and Asylum, “Greek legislation designates Turkey as a safe third country, for the first time.”Press Release, Available at: https://migration.gov.gr/en/asfali-triti-chora-charaktirizei-gia-proti-fora-i-elliniki-nomothesia-tin-toyrkia-afora-aitoyntes-asylo-apo-syria-afganistan-pakistan-mpagklantes-kai-somalia/

[3] Article 33(2)(c), Directive 2013/32/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection, JOL 180 de 29/6/2013 (Asylum Procedure Directive).

[4] Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted (recast), JO L 337 de 20.12.2011, Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A32011L0095 (Qualification Directive).

[5] Fenix - Humanitarian Legal Aid [18 March 2021], “Five years of the EU-Turkey Statement: Past, present and future”, Available at: https://www.fenixaid.org/post/five-years-of-the-eu-turkey-statement-past-present-and-future

[6] AIDA [May 2021], “Country Report: Turkey - 2020 Update”, Available at:

https://asylumineurope.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/AIDA-TR_2020update.pdf

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] Stonisi [14/1/2021], “955 to return to Turkey from Lesvos”, Available at:

https://www.stonisi.gr/post/14236/955-pros-epistrofh-sthn-toyrkia-apo-th-lesvo-video

[10] Stonisi [14/1/2021], “Turkey says “yes” to immigrant returns”, Available at:

https://www.stonisi.gr/post/14486/nai-stis-epistrofes-metanastwn-leei-h-toyrkia

[11] European Parliament [01/02/2021], “Parliamentary questions”, Available at:

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/P-9-2021-000604_EN.html

[12] European Commission [01/06/2021], “Answer given by Ms Johansson on behalf of the European Commission”, EN P-000604/2021, Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/P-9-2021-000604-ASW_EN.pdf

[13] Eurostat, “Asylum and first time asylum application by citizenship, age and sex - monthly data (rounded)”, Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/MIGR_ASYAPPCTZM__custom_1044113/default/table?lang=en (Accessed on 9/6/2021)

[14] Eurostat, “Asylum and first time asylum application by citizenship, age and sex - monthly data (rounded)”, Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/MIGR_ASYAPPCTZM__custom_1044160/default/table?lang=en (Accessed on 9/6/2021)

[15] Eurostat, “Asylum and first time asylum application by citizenship, age and sex - monthly data (rounded)”, Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/MIGR_ASYAPPCTZM__custom_1044179/default/table?lang=en (Accessed on 9/6/2021)

[16] Eurostat, “Asylum and first time asylum application by citizenship, age and sex - monthly data (rounded)”, Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/MIGR_ASYAPPCTZM__custom_1044206/default/table?lang=en (Accessed on 9/6/2021)

[17] Eurostat, “Asylum and first time asylum application by citizenship, age and sex - monthly data (rounded)”, Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/MIGR_ASYAPPCTZM__custom_1044231/default/table?lang=en (Accessed on 9/6/2021)

[18] Eurostat, “Asylum and first time asylum application by citizenship, age and sex - monthly data (rounded)”, Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/MIGR_ASYAPPCTZM__custom_1044286/default/table?lang=en (Accessed on 9/6/2021)




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