On the fifth anniversary of the EU-Turkey migration deal, eight European civil society organizations (CSOs) have called in a joint letter for an end to containment and deterrence at the European Union’s external borders.
The letter harshly criticized the “EU-Turkey Statement,” saying it had opened the way for five years of human rights violations. It was signed by Amnesty International, Caritas Europa, the Danish Refugee Council, the Greek Council for Refugees, Human Rights Watch, the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam and Refugee Rights Europe.
On March 18, 2016 the European Council and Turkey reached an agreement aimed at stopping the flow of irregular migration via Turkey to Europe. According to the EU-Turkey statement, all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers arriving from Turkey in the Greek islands and whose applications for asylum had been declared inadmissible should be returned to Turkey. The EU pledged €3 billion in 2016-2017 and another €3 billion in 2018-2019 to Turkey as its part of the deal.
Following the agreement, Greece introduced policies forcing people entering through the islands to stay in camps there while they await a decision on their asylum claims.
Reception centers were established on Greek islands after the agreement, where asylum seekers were kept before their readmission to Turkey. The CSO demanded that reception centers not function to limit the freedom of movement of asylum seekers but rather be open facilities. “These centers should only be for short visits where asylum seekers pass through for identification processes and medical checks,” they said.
According to the letter, the centers and their confinement policy have had an immense negative effect on the mental health of asylum seekers, with half of them reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Women and girls in particular are exposed to the risk of sexual and gender-based violence, and report being scared to leave their tents at night,” said the letter.
The letter added that asylum seekers should be treated with dignity and that the Charter of the Fundamental Rights should be respected by EU member states and that the fundamental rights of asylum seekers should be guaranteed.
“The European Commission has the responsibility to ensure the correct implementation of EU law, including by clarifying that anyone who expresses the wish to seek international protection when physically present on EU Member States’ territory, has, in fact, entered EU territory and is protected by EU and national law, without exception,” it said.
Emphasizing that asylum seekers were entitled to expertise support, the letter said the EU needed to ensure that United Nations Hight Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) and civil society organizations’ support was accessible to them.
The CSO also demanded a better monitoring mechanism of reception centers with the inclusion of nongovernmental organizations, members of the European Parliament and national parliaments. These entities should have unrestricted access to reception centers and the authority to publicly report their findings.
“Where shortcomings are identified – in relation to fundamental rights, the use of EU funds and resources, or the management of sites – the European Commission must develop a clear follow-up procedure for remedial action, with accountability according to EU standards,” said the letter.