Κυριακή, 15 Μαΐου 2016

Pleiades Rejects European Commission Letter Regarding the Application of the Safe Third Country Concept to Turkey

For Immediate Release
14 May 2016

Pleiades Rejects European Commission Letter Regarding the Application of the
Safe Third Country Concept to Turkey

The Hellenic Action for Human Rights – Pleiades strongly condemns the letter issued on 5 May 2016 by the Director General for Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission, directed at the Greek Secretary General for Population and Social Cohesion. Through this letter, the European Commission attempts to establish standardized reasoning for systematically denying the asylum claims of Syrian and non-Syrian nationals as inadmissible in Greece, on the basis that Turkey is a safe third country, despite the fact that such analyses must be individualized and reflect an objective weighing of all available relevant information, not just related to the legal framework in Turkey, but also to the documented conditions in that country. Even the 2008 Common EU Guidelines for Processing Country of Origin Information recognize that when analyses of country conditions is required, guidance provided should be based on “transparent, objective, impartial, and balanced” factual information.

Instead, the Commission’s letter reads as a guide for Greek authorities and their EASO counterparts to systematically deny all applications as inadmissible by finding Turkey a safe third country, without mentioning any of the country conditions information which describes the ineffectiveness and inaccessibility of protection mechanisms in Turkey and without even suggesting some of the possible profiles (based on ethnicity, political opinion, etc) that could produce different outcomes. The Letter does not even acknowledge the particular risks faced by some political dissidents, deserting soldiers, ethnic (such as Kurd), religious or sexual minorities, and journalists, among others, and completely ignores the findings of a delegation of three European Members of Parliament that people deported from Greece have not been able to request asylum in Turkey and are detained (including children) under a prison-like regime. By limiting its analysis to the legal framework in place in Turkey, the Commission obfuscates the need for a careful consideration of the factual reality and the adequacy of protection available in Turkey.

Nowhere does the Commission’s letter provide guidance (or caution) on analyzing the risk of persecution or other serious harm in Turkey, nor does it actually engage with the credible reports of refoulement from Turkey. The letter fails to consider reports from Human Rights Watch that persons re-admitted to Turkey were detained, not provided with any information regarding the reasons for or duration of their detention, let alone available protection procedures, and had their cell phones confiscated. It does not mention the patterns of exploitation and forced labor of Syrians, reported by the United States government and in news sources such as the Guardian, or the documented upsurge in private violence against foreigners across the country. Although the letter references a “commitment” by the Turkish authorities to allow the EU to monitor the camps and centres, the Commission did not find it necessary to wait until the conclusion of the first such monitoring visit, scheduled for early May 2016, in order to incorporate any formal findings into its letter. The Commission similarly ignores reports from Amnesty International in December 2015 and again in April 2016, of Syrian nationals being forcibly returned by Turkish authorities to Syria, despite fearing for their lives, and recent Human Rights Watch reports of Turkish border guards killing Syrian asylum-seekers. Such independent sources are frequently considered in the adjudication of asylum claims world-wide, as well as in the evaluation of human rights claims by the European Court of Human Rights.

Moreover, the Commission’s letter summarily “recalls” its previous position that transit through Turkey provides a sufficient connection for Turkey to be reasonably evaluated as a safe third country. Nowhere, however, not even in the referenced document, does the Commission provide any justification for this blanket consideration which explicitly contradicts previous UNHCR guidance on the general application of the safe third country concept, providing that mere transit is an insufficient link between the individual and the country concerned. By essentially eliminating the requirement of a meaningful connection, the Commission mandates that even persons who have no contacts in or no knowledge of places or lifestyle in Turkey may reasonably be expected to go to that country. Additionally, the Commission’s position that anyone who transited through Turkey is sufficient connected to that country effectively denies the possibility of challenging the existence of such a connection, a protection required by the Asylum Procedures Directive.

The European Commission’s position on the application of the safe third country principle to Syrian and non-Syrian nationals, as presented in the letter of 5 May 2016, is an affront to the dignity of the affected persons and to the integrity of the Greek asylum system. Greece’s aim should not be, as the Commission’s letter implies, to simply avoid legal responsibility for its actions, particularly in the European Court of Human Rights. Rather Greece, with the support of European institutions, should strive to take actions that completely abstain from actions that threaten the fundamental human rights of vulnerable and traumatized persons by instead guaranteeing them the procedural and other basic rights to which they are entitled. Empty assurances, such as those being offered by Turkey, do not change the fact that human rights violations and liability can follow from the real conditions to which returned individuals will be exposed, including the practical deficiencies in an asylum procedure and degrading detention and living conditions (See M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece, ECtHR, 2011). 


Pleiades calls upon the Greek Asylum Service, the Appeals Committees of p.d.114/2010 (to the members of which the letter was, notably, distributed, in a blatant attempt to influence the outcome of the first decisions expected to be issued in the following days) as well as cooperating EASO colleagues to exercise the independence afforded to them by their respective mandates to objectively and thoroughly examine each application for asylum individually, and to provide detailed explanations for every decision reached, including at the admissibility stage. Each decision should comply with the legal requirements of this process and should consider all available information regarding the fate an applicant could face in Turkey. The transparency and integrity of this process is fundamental not only to ensuring the credibility of the Greek asylum system, but also the human rights, dignity, and safety of each of the tens of thousands of individuals who at the very least, deserve the due process that Europe guarantees.

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