Guest post by Orçun Ulusoy and Hemme Battjes. Orçun is a human rights lawyer from Turkey and a founding member of Multeci-Der. He currently works as a researcher with Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam as part of the Human Costs of Border Control project. Orçun is on Twitter @orcunu. Hemme is professor of European asylum law at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. In this post, they summarise findings from a recent report into the readmissions of migrants and refugee from Greece to Turkey.

The number of irregular crossings and deaths at the Aegean Sea has decreased significantly since the readmissions of migrants and refugee from Greece to Turkey under the March 2016 provisions of the EU-Turkey Statement. (Table 1). In response, the European Commission declared the instrument a success. Politicians herald ‘the deal’ as a ‘game changer’ and claim it offers a model for deals with North African countries to manage migration towards Europe. 

Turkey was regarded as a safe third country for the purposes of the EU-Turkey Statement and on September 22, 2017, the Greek Council of State approved decisions of earlier Appeals Committees, which declared Turkey a safe third country; thus paving the way for more returns. However, little is known about the reception conditions of the migrants and asylum seekers who have been readmitted to Turkey. To fill this knowledge gap and to achieve a better understanding of the impacts of the Statement, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Migration Law Section conducted research that was funded by the Dutch Council for Refugees.

The initial desk and field research was conducted from 15 December 2016 to 15 February 2017. The desk research consisted of a survey of relevant legislation in Greece and Turkey, and reports on the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement by national and international governmental and non-governmental organisations that have been published after the EU-Turkey Statement. The field research was conducted from 20 to 29 January 2017 in Greece and Turkey. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with seven lawyers and five NGO practitioners who represented migrants who had been readmitted from Greece to Turkey under the provisions of the Greece-Turkey Readmission Agreement. Respondents have been anonymised for their and their clients’ security. Due to the changes, which took place on readmission procedures in Turkey after the fieldwork, additional interviews were held with respondents between June 2017 and August 2017, to clarify and update the information gathered. 

The report, based on the information gathered, highlights several problematic examples of serious human rights violations in Turkey. For example, migrants in detention in Turkey find it difficult, in practice, to access international protection. Most detainees are subject to infringements of procedural rights, which might lead to violations of the principle of non-refoulement. Research also underlines that readmitted Syrian and non-Syrian nationals are subject to arbitrary detention, while recent changes in asylum legislation in Turkey put asylum seekers at risk of deportation to their country of origin without juridical review, which effectively undermines the international protection mechanism. Below we present the report’s key findings.

Situation of Non-Syrian Readmitted Migrants

Detention: Readmitted Non-Syrian migrants are transferred to the Kırıkkale city Pehlivanköy Removal Centre, where they are kept in cells and are not allowed to communicate with their families and lawyers and are often denied access to UNHCR representatives. They are locked in their cells with only 5 to 10 minutes of outdoor time before meals; a total of 20 to 30 minutes of outdoor time per day. Unaccompanied minors are housed with adults or families in these cells. Onsite facilities such as an internet room, a library, a hairdresser and a sports hall, are kept locked and detainees are not allowed to use them. Migrants are held in this Removal Centre for one to two months until they are deported back to third countries or to their countries of origin. For those detainees who claim asylum, this period is significantly longer.

Access to Asylum: Readmitted non-Syrian migrants were provided with no information and were often denied access to UNHCR representatives and NGOs as well as to their lawyers who could advise them about their rights. Furthermore, the staff of the removal centre regularly misinformed them; on a number of occasions, they advised them not to apply for international protection since this would increase the duration of their stay in the removal centre. Interviewed lawyers reported that the staff also stated that the migrants were not allowed to apply for international protection in Turkey because they had been readmitted from Greece. Some lawyers told the research team that their clients were forced to sign documents of which they didn’t know the content or that were written in a language they did not understand.

Photo: Zalmai for Human Rights Watch.
Photo: Zalmai for Human Rights Watch

The sixth European Commission report on the progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement indicates that 1,798 non-Syrian migrants were readmitted between April 2016 and June 2017 and only 56 of them (3%) applied for international protection in Turkey. According to a Turkish lawyer, to have the opportunity to lodge an application for international protection from a removal centre is ‘based on pure luck’. According to him, the only way readmitted migrants could apply for international protection was through the intervention of a third party: a lawyer or an NGO. Even then, lawyers and NGOs may not be successful on lodging their clients’ applications due to difficulties they faced in examining their clients’ files and institutional refusals to provide necessary documents. Practitioners also reported being prevented from visiting their clients.

The situation of Syrian asylum seekers

Between April 2016 and June 2017, 178 Syrian nationals were readmitted from Greece to Turkey under the EU-Turkey Statement. Readmitted Syrians are transferred to Düziçi Temporary Accommodation Camp in Osmaniye city while waiting for the administration’s decision on their protection status and finalisation of the related paperwork.

According to several independent reports and lawyers interviewed during our fieldwork, the Düziçi Camp is, in practice, a detention facility. Syrian nationals in this camp are not allowed to leave. They are kept in locked cells and have very limited communication opportunities or access to the outside world. The presence of a ‘de facto detention camp’ and administrative detention for persons who are under the temporary protection regime in this camp has no legal basis according to the relevant Turkish legislation; namely, the Law on Foreigners and International Protection and Temporary Protection Regulation.

Recent changes in the Turkish asylum legislation

On 29 October 2016, under the state of emergency declared after the failed coup attempt on 15 July 2016, Presidential Decree no. 676 made significant amendments to the Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP). In particular, Art. 54 LFIP now determines for whom deportation decisions can be issued. According to the amendment, asylum seekers, international protection applicants and refugees can be deported at any stage of their international protection application if they are recognised as ‘a member of a terrorist organisation’. The provision does not require a court decision or formal procedure for declaring a foreigner to be a member of a terrorist organisation. This Article fundamentally undermines the protection status as well as several provisions of the LFIP, and creates a real risk of refoulement in violation of Turkey’s international obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Conclusion

In 2013, with the adoption of the Law on Foreigners and International Protection, Turkey undertook to establish ‘a migration and asylum system based on the international human rights norms’ as indicated in the Law's preamble. However, four years later, as the preliminary findings of our research indicate, persons who claim to be in need of international protection still face considerable difficulties accessing rights and guarantees provided by this law. They have limited if any access to asylum in Greece, yet Turkish authorities justify limiting their access to asylum in Turkey on the basis that readmitted migrants already had an opportunity to seek asylum in Greece. As Turkish authorities informed a visiting delegation from the European Parliament in May 2016, their aim is to deport all migrants who were readmitted to Turkey from Greece under the EU-Turkey Statement to their countries of origin.

Turkey was regarded as a safe (third) country for asylum seekers and refugees for the purposes of the EU-Turkey Statement. This designation was an outcome of a political decision rather than a policy based on evidence from the field. Existing structural problems in Turkey where the asylum and migration systems are still in their infancy and the absence of effective safeguards against the violation of human rights, partly as a result of alarming developments in the legal framework, should remind us that political will -such as in the EU-Turkey Statement- alone does not make a country a safe place for migrants and asylum seekers. 

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Ulusoy, O. and Battjes, H. (2017) Returned and Lost: What Happens After Readmission to Turkey?. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2017/10/returned-and-lost (Accessed [date]).