EU Turkey Agreement
We lead again this week with the “EU-Turkey Agreement” as it continues to generate serious concern and action from agencies, NGOs and other actors in the European migrant-refugee crisis. Equally, we see it as establishing new and uncomfortable precedents.
Below, we include statements of concern from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNICEF and IOM, and statements defining withdrawal of and limits to humanitarian support in Greece from UNHCR, MSF, IRC and Oxfam. This summary is not attempting to be exhaustive, but we believe it is indicative of the situation.
UN rights chief expresses serious concerns over EU-Turkey agreement
GENEVA (24 March 2016) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Thursday expressed serious concerns about the recent agreement between the European Union and Turkey, pointing to what he termed “a contradiction at the heart of the agreement,” as well as raising concerns regarding arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants.
“The declared aim to return all refugees and migrants contrasts with the assurances about individual assessments,” the High Commissioner said. “If the safeguards are to be considered real, then the individual assessments must allow for the possibility that the persons in question will not in fact be returned. Otherwise it could still qualify as a collective expulsion.”
The EU-Turkey agreement calls for cases to be processed under the EU’s Asylum Procedures Directive, and goes on to state that “Migrants not applying for asylum or whose application has been found unfounded or inadmissible in accordance with the said directive will be returned to Turkey.”
Zeid expressed concern that this language presents a real risk of overlooking human rights law obligations, which require States to examine arguments against return beyond those found in refugee law. Such needs could arise, for example, in the case of children; victims of violence, rape, trauma and torture; individuals with specific sexual orientation; persons with disabilities; and a range of others with legitimate individual protection needs.
The UN Human Rights Chief urged Greece to handle all individual cases with genuine attention to all protection grounds required under international human rights law, including at the appeals stage.
Zeid said he has particular concerns about returns being carried out on the basis of asylum claims in Greece being found ‘inadmissible’ because Turkey is a ‘safe third country’ or a ‘first country of asylum.’
“Even if Turkey does expand its refugee definition to include non-Europeans, or passes laws qualifying certain nationalities for ‘temporary protection,’ it may not be considered fully safe for all returns in the near future. Refugee and migrant protection systems are not simply words on paper, but require trained personnel, tailored policies, infrastructure and other concrete practical measures that take time to establish,” the High Commissioner said. “Disturbingly, there have also been recent reports of forcible returns amounting to refoulement from Turkey.”
The UN human rights chief backed the strong concerns expressed on Tuesday by other UN agencies, UNHCR and UNICEF, at the use of detention for all new arrivals in the Greek islands, including children and other vulnerable persons, adding that this appears to contravene a range of international and EU human rights laws and standards, including that immigration detention should be a measure of last resort, and the principle of “best interests of the child.” The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has emphasized that children should never be detained on the basis of their migration status or that of their parents.
The High Commissioner expressed his concern that all returns must be carried out in full respect of the human rights and dignity of each individual being returned, including through ensuring that any consent for voluntary return is given free of any coercion and that those who are forcibly returned are protected against disproportionate use of force and other abuse of their rights and dignity.
Finally, the High Commissioner regretted that the envisaged so-called ‘one-for-one’ scheme for resettlement is to take place “within the framework of the existing commitments” to resettlement or relocation – without creating new commitments to legal pathways. He urged the EU to implement practical recommendations made by UN and other international organizations and experts concerning the creation of other regular channels for entry, including family reunification, other humanitarian pathways, and regulated labour migration in response to real labour market needs.
“This crisis is manageable if the EU acts on the basis of its own well-established and greatly respected laws and principles, and invests seriously in addressing root causes and supporting comprehensive solutions on the basis of international human rights treaties they have ratified,” Zeid said. “However, if the EU starts to circumvent international law, there could be a deeply problematic knock-on effect in other parts of the world.”
UNHCR redefines role in Greece as EU-Turkey deal comes into effect
Briefing Notes, 22 March 2016
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 22 March 2016, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
This past Sunday, the provisions agreed between the EU and Turkey to stem the large-scale arrival of refugees and migrants to Greece and beyond into Europe came into effect. Starting already on Saturday, the Greek authorities accelerated the transfer to the mainland of an estimated 8,000 refugees and migrants who had arrived on the islands before the 20th of March. This was to separate them from people arriving after that date and who will be subject to the new return policy.
Arrivals on Lesvos have so far continued. As of this morning 934 people had arrived since Sunday. They are being held at a closed registration and temporary accommodation site in Moria on the east of the island. The remaining 880 people who arrived before Sunday are being hosted about a kilometre away at the Kara Tepe centre, which is run by the local municipality and remains an open facility.
UNHCR has till now been supporting the authorities in the so-called “hotspots” on the Greek islands, where refugees and migrants were received, assisted, and registered. Under the new provisions, these sites have now become detention facilities. Accordingly, and in line with our policy on opposing mandatory detention, we have suspended some of our activities at all closed centres on the islands. This includes provision of transport to and from these sites. However, UNHCR will maintain a presence to carry out protection monitoring to ensure that refugee and human rights standards are upheld, and to provide information on the rights and procedures to seek asylum.
UNHCR staff will also continue to be present at the shoreline and sea port to provide life-saving assistance (including transport to hospitals where needed). We are counselling new arrivals on asylum in Greece, including on family reunification and on access to services. And we are identifying people with specific needs.
UNHCR is concerned that the EU-Turkey deal is being implemented before the required safeguards are in place in Greece. At present, Greece does not have sufficient capacity on the islands for assessing asylum claims, nor the proper conditions to accommodate people decently and safely pending an examination of their cases.
UNHCR is not a party to the EU-Turkey deal, nor will we be involved in returns or detention. We will continue to assist the Greek authorities to develop an adequate reception capacity.
Uncertainty is making the new arrivals nervous. Many still hope that the border will open. Many have run out of money. There is also an urgent need for information. The Greek police have been distributing leaflets in Arabic and Persian informing people that the border is closed and advising them to go to camps where better conditions are provided. But the capacity of nearby camps has been reached, and more camps need to be opened including for candidates for relocation.
Under the EU’s Emergency Relocation Mechanism, European countries agreed to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers, including 66,400 out of Greece and 39,600 out of Italy. As of 21 March 2016, 22 countries had made 7015 places available for asylum seekers to be relocated under the programme and a total of 953 asylum seekers had been relocated (384 out of Italy and 569 out of Greece).
Meanwhile, on the Greek mainland in Idomeni, an estimated 10,000-12,000 people, including some 4,000 children, are camping in dire conditions at an informal site near the border, close to a railway track. The majority are families, many of them with young children. Hygiene is a major concern, negatively impacting people’s health. People are burning plastic and rubbish to keep warm. The general environment is very challenging. UNHCR and partners have been working to improve capacity by providing family-sized and large tents for up to 2,400 people and collecting rubbish. Mobile latrines have been put in place, but they are not enough. Tents have been provided for vulnerable families and individuals, including 30 unaccompanied minors. UNHCR has been visiting detention centres where unaccompanied children are in protective custody. Food distribution has been arranged by several organisations (sandwich and a drink), three times a day, as well as the distribution of milk, baby food, and diapers.
New EU-Turkey agreement on refugee and migrants could leave children at risk: UNICEF
GENEVA, 22 March 2016 – UNICEF today expressed concern that the new agreement between the EU and Turkey, which comes into effect this week, does not address the pressing humanitarian needs of 19,000 refugee and migrant children stranded in Greece. Children make up 40 percent of the refugee and migrant population in Greece. It is estimated that unaccompanied children make up 10 percent of the child population.
UNICEF warned the new agreement could push children and families to take other more dangerous routes including the central Mediterranean Sea. UNICEF welcomes EU leaders’ commitment to determining the individual status of refugees and migrants rather than collective expulsions, push-back practices or other measures that may be harmful to children.
The children’s agency, however, urges that a number of priorities are addressed:
:: Unaccompanied and separated children are properly identified and taken into protective care rather than detention. They are entitled to a full hearing and assessment of their best interests prior to any decision related to them, including on return. The capacity of state institutions in Greece needs to be scaled up significantly to deal with this new caseload.
:: Child and family support services such as child friendly spaces, and safe mother and baby areas are rapidly expanded in ‘Blue Dots’ services.
:: Children stranded for longer periods in Greece will require an expanded set of basic services such as emergency education. Many children have been out of school for several months and would benefit even from short term learning.
:: To prevent disease outbreaks among children, urgent consideration has to be given to vaccinating refugee and migrant children, especially as many have been living in unsanitary conditions for weeks. An initial response would include vaccinating against measles, polio and pneumococcal infections.
IOM: Migrants Must Fully Benefit from Protection under International Law
Switzerland – IOM has called upon the international community to address the current migrant rights deficit, highlighting the fact that migrants do not adequately benefit from the protection granted to them under international law.
Greece: MSF Ends Activities at Primary Lesvos Transit Camp
March 22, 2016
New York/Athens, March 22, 2016 — The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has decided to suspend its activities linked to the Moria “hotspot” until further notice. Moria is the main camp on the island of Lesvos where all arrivals are identified, registered, and fingerprinted before being relocated or returned to their home countries. The decision follows the EU-Turkey deal announced Friday, which will lead to the forced return of migrants and asylum-seekers from the Greek Island.
“We made the extremely difficult decision to end our activities in Moria because continuing to work inside would make us complicit in a system we consider to be both unfair and inhumane,” said Marie Elisabeth Ingres, MSF head of mission in Greece. “We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalized for a mass expulsion operation, and we refuse to be part of a system that has no regard for the humanitarian or protection needs of asylum seekers and migrants.”
MSF will close all activities linked to the “hotspot” of Moria, including the transportation of refugees to the center, and the water and sanitation activities and medical clinic inside. MSF will continue to run its transit center in Mantamados, where new arrivals are offered first aid assistance, and its sea rescue activities on the northern beaches of Lesvos. It will also continue to run mobile clinics on the island of Lesvos for those outside of the hotspot location.
Since July 2015, MSF has provided medical consultations, mental health support, distributed relief items, and conducted water and sanitation activities in Moria camp in Lesvos. MSF has carried out 24,314 consultations in the island of Lesvos, including 12,526 in Moria. MSF psychologists have assisted 401 people through individual sessions and have conducted 584 group sessions with 3,532 participants. Teams were also providing temporary shelter and transportation between the North and the registration centers of Moria and Kara Tepe in the South of the island. As of March 13, MSF transported 12,952 new arrivals.
The International Rescue Committee Will Not Transport Refugees to Closed Facility at Moria, Lesvos
Lesbos, Greece 23 Mar 2016 –
On Monday evening the IRC informed the Greek coastguard that we would not transport refugees to the closed facility at Moria. We cannot knowingly participate in the transportation of some of the world’s most vulnerable to a place where their freedom of movement is in question.
We will continue to provide for refugees’ basic and protection needs at Kara Tepe camp and, should refugees land on Lesvos’ north shore we are ready to assist them with the essential services they need.
The IRC has been working on the Greek island of Lesbos since July 2015 delivering clean water and sanitation in several refugee transit sites and providing newly arrived refugees with much needed information about the registration process and essential services. We continue to provide specialized services to the most vulnerable refugees, including people with limited mobility and children separated from their families. In early March the IRC’s emergency response team was deployed to Northern Greece to assist with the response there. In the short term the IRC’s protection and environmental health team are responding at Idomeni, the informal refugee site on Greece’s northern border.
More information about the IRC’s response to the Europe Refugee Crisis at this link.
Says no to police-run detention facilities
(23.03.2016) Refugee Crisis
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has decided to suspend a number of activities at the refugee and asylum seeker so-called ‘Hotspot’ facillity, Vial, on the island of Chios. “We cannot work independently and safely in a police-run detention facility. Now that it is a detention centre we no longer have adequate access to provide assistance to vulnerable refugees,” said Alain Homsy, Head of NRC operations in Greece.
Oxfam suspends aid operations in Moria camp in protest to the suspension of migrants’ rights by the EU and Turkey
24 March 2016
Oxfam has today suspended all of its operations in the Moria camp, on the Greek island of Lesvos, in response to the deteriorating treatment of migrants due to the recent deal struck between the EU and Turkey. The Greek authorities are transforming reception facilities into detention centers, where people will be held pending their mass return to Turkey.