Forcing People into Invisibility: Greece’s Decision to Declare Turkey Safe

by Gianni Manzella, Samos, Greece

After a long summer of migration in 2015, the UNHCR declared over a million of refugees, one-in-two of which were fleeing Syria, had fled Europe by sea. While the first wave of Syrians applying for asylum in Schengen countries seemed to be welcomed and able to pursue their journey, today’s reality is vastly different after over a decade of war.

Many current Syrian asylum seekers have been on the island for years, failing to meet the designated admissibility criteria introduced through the EU-Turkey statement. Being sidelined ever since these decisions came into force, people are stranded at external EU borders with no legal way out of their situation. Now that Europe is trying to abate a ‘refugee crisis’ of an even larger scale by fast tracking Ukrainian refugees, many of those coming from elsewhere are still suffering the impacts of Europe’s previous measures to deter and detain asylum seekers at external EU-borders.

Looking back, the EU-Turkey statement aimed to prevent ‘irregular’ migration from Turkey to the EU. Main part of the ‘deal’ is the readmission agreement. All third-country nationals arriving irregularly to the Greek islands, are not in need of international protection and would therefore be returned to Turkey, being supposedly safe for them.

To fully understand the scope of the EU-Turkey statement, one must however go one step further back in history. After the closure of the ‘Balkan Route’ in early 2016, the previous Greek administration set up reception centres on the 5 hotspot islands (Lesvos, Leros, Chios, Kos and Samos) leading to arbitrary detention of asylum seekers arriving on one of the islands. As a result of the closure, the Aegean sea seemed to be the only gateway to Europe. Given the new criteria to claim asylum, many asylum seekers were unable to continue their journey towards the mainland as they had to wait for their application to be examined.

In June 2021, Greece seized a further opportunity to strengthen the European border regime by declaring Turkey a safe third country (STC) for asylum seekers from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Somalia, even though readmissions to Turkey stopped in March 2020. The safe third country concept matches the previous ‘deal’, as it limits access to international protection.

On Samos, the so-called ‘Turkey interview’ (the name many asylum seekers give to the admissibility procedure) has left its traces since March 2016. Many current Syrian asylum seekers have been on the island for years, failing to meet the designated admissibility criterias resulting from the 2016 ‘deal’. Through a letter published in January, current Syrian camp residents stressed that Turkey cannot be deemed a safe country for them given various reasons such as repeated hate crimes, and general anti-migrant sentiments. Similar to this, Somalis are also negatively affected by the ministerial decision of 2021 and consequently published a letter in February pointing out countless problems they face in Turkey such as legal matters, violence and the absence of adequate health care. Bearing in mind that Turks are ranking fifth among asylum seekers in Greece, it seems dubious that the country is considered safe for third country nationals.

Besides the difficulties for many to meet the admissibility criteria, another layer of uncertainty is added to the whole asylum procedure. The current asylum procedure in Greece presents a nightmare for people seeking sanctuary, let alone the imposition of a fee of 100 euros for access to asylum from the second and every following subsequent application for international protection. While a person is allowed to repeatedly file an application (including continuous payments of the aforementioned fees), the procedure has no end in sight. Considering that the scheme is endless, people forcibly remaining on Samos have no other legal choice but to apply after each rejection they receive. Since no returns are taking place, asylum seekers not meeting the admissibility criteria are therefore held hostage in a place that should have been the gateway to a new life.

What we can witness on Samos today however is only one part of European system of marginalisation, discrimination and destitution that many non-EU citizen face. Rather than offering solutions to underlying problems, the new pact on migration and asylum fails to propose alternatives and focusses once more on returns and extensive security measures, leaving many asylum seekers in indefinite limbo on external EU-borders such as Samos.

Being told to keep waiting time after time by authorities, people keep being trapped in no man’s and and are – step by step – forced into invisibility.


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