On September 22, the Greek Supreme Administrative Court, also known as the Council of State, approved the deportation of two Syrian refugees on the premise that Turkey is a safe country. The refugees, aged 22 and 29, will be forced to return to Turkey. “This decision is irrevocable, and, effectively, legally facilitates the return of refugees,” a Greek Immigration Ministry official told The Associated Press.
This case follows the Readmission Agreement signed by the European Union and Turkey in 2016. According to this agreement, “all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as of March 20, 2016 will be returned to Turkey.” In other words, people who do not have a right to international protection will be immediately returned to Turkey.
“Today – for the first time since the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal – Greece, acting on behalf of the entire EU, took a conscious decision which will result in two refugees being sent to a country which is already struggling to meet the basic needs of almost three million other refugees” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.
According to the Greek Supreme Administrative Court, Turkey is safe for them. But is it? Some believe Syrian refugees might be sent back to Syria by Turkish authorities. Amnesty International released a report expressing its concern about unlawful deportations from Turkey to Syria.
One of the two refugees, Noori, told Amnesty International that “during his first two attempts to enter Turkey, he was apprehended and beaten by Turkish gendarmerie, before being sent back to Syria.” On his third attempt, he said his group was “attacked by an armed group and 11 of his companions were killed.” He stayed in Turkey for only a month and a half, but was attacked and robbed twice by smugglers and thieves.
Did the Greek Court Decision Set a Precedent for Deportations?
Is this going to create a precedent for more deportations? Paolo Biondi, an independent consultant on migration and refugee policy, believes it won’t.
Biondi claims the Council of State’s decision was politically charged as the court acts on behalf of the entire EU. So “the Council of State may have been subjected to substantial pressure to somehow endorse the EU/Turkey deal.” He also underlined that the court decided not to refer the case to the EU Court of Justice only by a narrow vote of 13 to 12, despite a clear legal obligation to do so.
Another important point is raised by Biondi in a more detailed article:
“It cannot be forgotten that an applicant for asylum in the EU may have a ‘good cause’ for requesting to be transferred to another Member State, rather than remaining stuck in Greece or Hungary or being returned to a safe-third-country such as Turkey. Among the good causes, there is the presence of family members in another Member State.”
This means that in this situation, which isn’t rare, a member state may have to send a request to another EU member state in order to bring together any family on humanitarian grounds. In other words, a national court won’t be able to use the Greek precedent to declare one’s inadmissibility and thus return that person to a third country. It will have to remain a decision made on a case by case basis.
Biondi finally refers to the unstable political atmosphere in the post-coup attempt Turkey. According to him, the state of emergency implemented after the coup attempt may engender a significant risk of chain deportations to Syria. Consequently, he believes that the Greek authorities won’t be able to simplify this practice without going against Article 4 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This article provides that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Biondi is a strong supporter of the idea that Turkey is not a safe third country. He quotes a recent study conducted by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam that demonstrates Turkey’s asylum system leads to serious human rights violations.
Precedent or not, we must keep in mind that respect for human rights is a duty of the EU, and the law must be practical, not just theoretical.
This article is the result of a partnership with the website Bosphorus Migration.