Illegal deportations, lack of protection, and precarious living conditions are commonplace for people on the move in Turkey. Nevertheless, Greek authorities classify Turkey as a safe country for protection seekers. Why Turkey is not safe.
By the end of March 2022, Turkey has illegally deported 200,000 protection seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq from Turkey to the Syrian province of Idlib.This is not the first report of illegal deportations from Turkey to civil war countries. For years, Turkey's illegal deportations to Syria and Afghanistan have been documented over and over again. With this practice, Turkey violates the non-refoulement principle in human rights law, which prohibits the deportation of persons to states where they are at risk of torture or other serious human rights violations.
Nevertheless, last year Greece declared Turkey a “Safe Third Country” in general for refugees from five countries. This allows the Greek authorities to systematically deport protection seekers to Turkey without assessing their asylum claims.
The safe third country concept
Since 2016 the greek government, supported by the EU, has been trying everything in its power to deny protection seekers access to asylum procedures in Greece. Due to the systematic practice of illegal and brutal pushbacks involving humiliation, violence and torture by the Hellenic Coast Guard as the main actor, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex and ships under NATO command, only a minority of people on the move manage to reach Greek soil.
As if these inhumane practices were not enough, numerous legal measures were simultaneously implemented in Greece as part of the EU-Turkey-Deal. The aim of these measures is to deny asylum seekers who reach the Greek islands despite the highly militarised borderlands access to an asylum procedure in the EU. This includes the introduction of the so-called admissibility procedure: Before refugees can apply for asylum in Greece, the Greek authorities check whether Turkey can be considered a safe third country for them. Only if the Greek authorities decide that Turkey is not considered "safe", the actual application for asylum can be examined. Since 2021, the concept has generally applied to all people seeking protection from Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, even retroactively to all those who have already applied for asylum in Greece. Refugees for whom Turkey is classified as a safe third country are deported to Turkey. Protection seekers are thus deprived of their right to asylum. Although deportations under the EU-Turkey deal from Greece to Turkey have been suspended by Turkey since March 2020, people who have already reached Greece continue to be held in limbo in practice.
Lack of protection and precarious living conditions
In 2016, a legal assessmentcommissioned by Pro Asyl already came to the conclusion that Turkey should not be classified as a safe third country by the EU and its member states. The application of the concept lacks the mandatory requirement of ratification of the Geneva Refugee Convention (GRC). In Turkey, this only applies with a geographical restriction - to refugees from Europe. People fleeing from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan are only granted "conditional refugee status". This means that they are granted lower rights than refugees under the GRC and in particular without the right to family reunification.
Since 2016, Syrian citizens have been able to register for "temporary protection" in Turkey. This "protection status" is also a result of the EU-Turkey-Deal. The EU has paid six billion euros to Turkey for the implementation, to "care for refugees". The actual aim was to pay Turkey to stop the movement of refugees to Greece. Currently, 3.75 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey under this “temporary protection” status. Protection seekers from other countries can apply for "international protection". Since 2016, more than 410,000 applications for international protection have been submitted in Turkey. Mainly by people from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. The Turkish General Directorate for Migration Management does not provide public information on the number of positive or negative decisions. The asylum procedures are not very transparent, protection seekers have to wait months for their applications to be processed and negative decisions are sometimes not justified.
Registration is mandatory for those seeking protection, otherwise their stay in Turkey is considered illegal. There are numerous reports that many registration offices have been closed due to high demand, making registration impossible or difficult for many people. Non-registered people are at a constant risk of detention or deportation. Without ID, they also have no access to health care, education, or social assistance.
After successful registration, refugees are assigned a province of residence, which they are not allowed to leave. Unauthorised stay in other provinces can lead to detention or deportation. In Turkey, there are seven accommodation centers for Syrians under temporary protection, accommodating about 50,000 people. All other refugees live outside the official facilities. In Turkey, refugees are not granted state accommodation or access to social housing. The majority of people are therefore forced to live in precarious conditions in self-built shelters, tents, or on the street.
Since 2016, Turkey has been providing work permits for people under temporary protection and international protection. However, of the 3.6 million Syrians living in Turkey, very few have actually received a work permit. As a result, the majority of refugees are forced to work in the informal sector under exploitative conditions. For example, many refugees work under extremely health-threatening working conditions in the Turkish recycling industry. This situation increases the risk of detention and deportation and makes it almost impossible for the workers to report the inhumane working conditions.
Since the Turkish authorities do not publish statistics on deportations, it remains difficult to reconstruct how many people are actually detained and deported. However, according to testimonies, most deportations are declared as "voluntary returns". Security officers trick or force people in detention into signing a form saying that they want to leave Turkey voluntarily. Under the mask of "voluntary return", people are deported to Syria or Afghanistan. There is limited access to information, legal representation and effective legal remedies against the decisions of the Turkish authorities.
Conclusion: Turkey is not a safe third country
All refugees who are deported from Greece to Turkey are at risk of going down a chain of deportation. These illegal deportations, precarious living conditions, and the arbitrariness of the state make it more than clear that Turkey is neither on the legal level nor in reality a safe third country for those seeking protection. Especially due to the lack of transparency in dealing with refugees, deportations and detentions, Turkey is becoming a black box. Stop the externalisation of the border to Turkey! Greece must revoke the decision to consider Turkey a safe third country!