EU: Asylum-seekers must be moved from appalling conditions

With the EU-Turkey deal faltering and more than 16,000 refugees languishing in appalling conditions on the Greek islands, Amnesty International is calling on EU Heads of State and Government to commit to concrete action to save lives and restore dignity as they meet in Brussels this week.

The organisation is proposing six concrete steps, beginning with asylum-seekers being moved from the Greek islands to the mainland where their asylum applications can be processed, with further relocation across mainland Europe.

“European leaders want to keep refugees and migrants on the Greek islands – out of sight, and therefore out of mind. But with the conditions getting worse as winter sets in, ignoring them risks people’s lives and dignity.”

Iverna McGowan, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

“European leaders want to keep refugees and migrants on the Greek islands – out of sight, and therefore out of mind. But with the conditions getting worse as winter sets in, ignoring them risks people’s lives and dignity,” said Iverna McGowan, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

“The steps to alleviate this suffering are straightforward, but what is lacking is the political will.”

Iverna McGowan

“The steps to alleviate this suffering are straightforward, but what is lacking is the political will. Unless our leaders change course, the abysmal approach to the manageable number of people arriving at Europe’s borders will go down in history as a stain on our collective conscience.”

Conditions on the islands are dangerous and have even proved fatal – recently a woman and child died after a gas explosion. Refugees and migrants, including children and vulnerable families, are sleeping in tents exposed to the cold and heavy rain, without adequate sanitation and hygiene, and in constant fear of racist attacks or other types of violence, including gender-based violence.  

Some refugees have been on the islands for several months without having access to an asylum procedure. Others have chosen to return “voluntarily” so to escape the conditions in which they are held and the uncertainty over their fate. Amnesty International has also documented cases of refugees who were returned against their will, despite having expressed a wish to claim asylum.  

Despite having a right to family reunification under EU law, some refugees are unable to reunite with family members in other EU countries. The European Commission is now suggesting they should be returned to Turkey and seek family reunification from there, in a move seemingly motivated by a desire to increase the numbers of people returned under the deal.

Amnesty International’s proposed six-step solution for European leaders involves:

  1. Immediately transfer people to mainland Greece
  2. Step up relocation and family reunification efforts with a view to moving people onto other European countries
  3. Ensure speedy registration of asylum-seekers stranded on the islands
  4. Establish safe and legal routes, including a large scale resettlement programme from Turkey
  5. Support Turkey to develop its asylum system
  6. End returns under the EU-Turkey deal

“The human cost of the EU-Turkey Deal should act as a warning against future deals with other countries. Yet leaders are signing more every week, with scant regard for cost to lives and for how Europe’s values are cheapened,” said Iverna McGowan.

“Moving asylum seekers outside Europe’s borders, outsourcing responsibilities simply does not work. It jeopardises their human rights and wilfully ignores the reasons why they left their homes in the first place.”

Iverna McGowan

“Moving asylum seekers outside Europe’s borders, outsourcing responsibilities simply does not work. It jeopardises their human rights and wilfully ignores the reasons why they left their homes in the first place.”

Background

Further details of Amnesty International’s six-step proposal for EU leaders.

  • Immediately transfer asylum-seekers, particularly those vulnerable, who are stuck in the Greek islands under the EU-Turkey deal to mainland Greece, and ensure they are provided with adequate reception and processed, including with a view to their relocation to other EU countries.   
  • Step up relocation of asylum-seekers from Greece by increasing the number of pledged relocation places, and swiftly matching relocation requests; establish accessible, public and fast-tracked family reunification procedures to ensure the swift reunion of family members stranded in Greece with close relatives in other European countries; grant access through humanitarian visas for asylum-seekers in immediate need of special care.
  • Ensure the speedy registration of asylum-seekers stranded on the islands by increasing the resources for the Asylum Service.
  • Set up a large scale resettlement programme from Turkey and provide other safe and legal routes for refugees in Turkey to reach EU countries, such as humanitarian visas, family reunification, and student visas, as a way to protect people in need of international protection and manage migration in an orderly and predictable manner.
  • Support Turkey in the development of an asylum system and legal framework that fully complies with Turkey’s international obligations towards refugees, regardless of nationality. Provide significant, flexible and predictable financial assistance, as well as operational and technical support to Turkey to ensure refugees enjoy economic and social rights, and have access to health, education and the labour market.
  • Stop returns of asylum-seekers to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal on the grounds that it is a “safe third country” or a “first country of asylum”, and examine asylum claims on the merits in a fair asylum process with all procedural and substantial safeguards.
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