Amnesty: EU can’t return refugees to Turkey

The European Union (EU) must immediately halt plans to return asylum-seekers to Turkey on the false pretence that it is a “safe country” for refugees, said Amnesty International in a briefing published on Friday.

The briefing, No safe refuge: Asylum-seekers and refugees denied effective protection in Turkey, details the short-comings in Turkey’s asylum system and the hardships refugees face there that would render their return under the EU-Turkey Agreement of 18 March illegal – and unconscionable.

The briefing shows that Turkey’s asylum system is struggling to cope with more than three million asylum-seekers and refugees. As a result, asylum-seekers face years waiting for their cases to be dealt with, during which time they receive little or no support to find shelter and sustenance for themselves and their families, with children as young as nine working to support families.

“The EU-Turkey deal is reckless and illegal. Amnesty International’s findings expose as a fiction the idea that Turkey is able to respect the rights and meet the needs of over three million asylum-seekers and refugees,”
said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“In its relentless efforts to prevent irregular arrivals to Europe, the EU has wilfully misrepresented what is actually happening on the ground in Turkey. It is to be expected that a new asylum system, in a country hosting the largest number of refugees in the world, would struggle. While there is value in supporting and encouraging Turkey to develop a fully functioning asylum system, the EU cannot act as if it already exists.”

Refugees forced to return to homeland

On 18 March 2016, the EU and Turkey agreed to a far-reaching migration control deal – formally a statement. In exchange for up to €6 billion as well as political concessions from the EU, Turkey agreed to take back all “irregular migrants” who cross into the Greek islands after 20 March.

The justification for the EU-Turkey deal is the assumption that Turkey is a safe place to which asylum-seekers and refugees can be returned. Beyond not respecting refugee rights within Turkey (the subject of this report), another way in which a country might not be “safe” is if it sends people to other countries where they face a risk of serious human rights violations. Previous Amnesty International research has already shown that in late 2015 and early 2016, asylum-seekers and refugees in Turkey were sent back to precisely such a risk in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.