Migrants, who were allegedly pushed back by Greek authorities, in Balikesir, Turkey | Photo: EPA/Erdem Sahin
Migrants, who were allegedly pushed back by Greek authorities, in Balikesir, Turkey | Photo: EPA/Erdem Sahin

Greece's decision to consider Turkey a safe third country is "unacceptable," 38 humanitarian organizations have argued in a letter to the Greek government and the European Union. Greece recently declared Turkey safe for asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Considering Turkey a safe third country "endangers refugees", the 38 humanitarian organizations wrote in a letter addressed to the Greek government and the European Union on Tuesday, June 15.

The letter demanded that "the decision to designate Turkey a 'safe third country' should be immediately revoked."

The NGOs said that because Greece's new policy "applies to people coming from countries with a high rate of recognition of international protection, like Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia," it represents a "political line [that] started in March 2016 with the EU-Turkey declaration, that shifts to third countries the responsibility of protecting refugees, including unaccompanied minors, who arrive in Europe."

Pushback accusations against Turkey

The letter argued that Turkey should not be considered safe, "especially considering the many reports that over the past few years have denounced [alleged] refugee pushbacks [from Turkey], including to conflict zones in Syria."

Among the signatories are several prominent migrant and refugee aid organizations active in Greece, such as the Greek Council for Refugees, Médecins du Monde and Refugee Support Aegean.

"Today, an asylum seeker or a refugee in Greece, in the best of cases, finds himself imprisoned in tents on the Greek islands, in the worst case he or she can be sent back to Turkey as a 'safe' country," Apostolos Vezis is quoted as saying in the letter. Vezis is the director the Greek branch of Intersos, one of the organizations that signed the letter.

Turkey declared 'safe' for asylum seekers

On June 7, Greece's foreign ministry and migration ministry announced that Turkey would be considered a 'safe third country' for asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Bangladesh and Pakistan. This decision enables Greek asylum authorities to send more people back to Turkey without having to examine whether they deserve asylum. This policy is highly controversial -- some refugee advocates argue that it violates EU law because each asylum case's merits should be examined individually.

You can find the letter (in Italian) and a list of all 38 organizations that signed it here.

 

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