Thodoris Chondrogiannos 09 • 12 • 2021

Greece called upon to revoke Ministerial Decision designating Turkey a safe third country for asylum seekers

Thodoris Chondrogiannos
Greece called upon to revoke Ministerial Decision designating Turkey a safe third country for asylum seekers
09 • 12 • 2021

Dozens of humanitarian organisations protest Greece’s decision to recognize Turkey as a safe country for refugees of five nationalities on the basis that Turkey does not offer adequate international protection to asylum seekers, and therefore cannot be recognized as a safe third country.

On June 14, 2021, a total of 40 organisations issued a statement protesting Greece’s recognition of Turkey as a safe third country for refugees of five nationalities. A Joint Ministerial Decision was issued by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Immigration and Asylum on  June 7, 2021 (Government Gazette 2425 / Issue B ‘/ 7.6.2021), which designated Turkey as a “safe third country” for families, (men,women and children) who apply for international protection in Greece and come from five specific countries (Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh).

The signatory organisations note that this decision in practice consolidates the policy of a disclaimer of responsibility for the protection of refugees in Europe, even unaccompanied children, in the context of the implementation of the EU-Turkey Joint Declaration in March 2016. According to the National Center for Social Solidarity (EKKA), 68% of unaccompanied children found in Greece come from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Ministerial Decision is not in line with the principle of the best interests of the child and the protective provisions of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, as Turkey does not provide effective international protection under international law and in particular the 1951 Geneva Convention.

The statement holds that, “the solution is not to send displaced individuals to Turkey. In Turkey, people seeking asylum from non-European countries are not granted international protection per the 1951 Refugee Convention, while in March 2021 Turkey announced it would withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, and will thus not be protecting victims of gender-based violence, who are at an increased risk in case of return from Greece, based on the new JMD.”

The statement concludes, “In line with a recent announcement by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), our organisations stress that externalisation simply shifts asylum responsibilities elsewhere and evades international obligations. We once again call on the Greek and European authorities to honour their responsibility to protect refugees and to avoid further undermining the European asylum acquis and the fundamental principles and values for protecting human rights. To this end, we call on Greece to revoke the JMD issued on 7 June.”

The UNHCR’s announcement highlighted Greece’s responsibility as a transferring state to ensure that asylum seekers’ rights are protected by the receiving state,

“Under international law, the transferring State is responsible for ensuring that obligations to protect transferred asylum seekers are met fully by the receiving state. Some of these safeguards include protection against refoulement, access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, health care, employment, education, and social security, and the right to freedom of movement. If these rights cannot be guaranteed, the transferring country will breach international law.”

On October 7, 2021 the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and the Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) submitted a request for the withdrawal of the ministerial decision recognizing Turkey as a safe country to the Greek Council of State, the Supreme Administrative Court of Greece. 

With thanks to the following organisations for contributing to this report: HR360, Generation 2.0, Greek National Commission for Human Rights, Greek Council for Refugees.

Where is the problem with the rule of law?

A state that adheres to the rule of law must provide effective international protection to asylum seekers in accordance with the rules of international law, and Greece as an EU Member State is also obliged to adhere to EU rules. However, in designating Turkey as a safe third country, Greece paves the way for the return of asylum seekers to a country that does not offer adequate international protection to those seeking refugee status.

Thodoris Chondrogiannos
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