Turkey, a safe third country ! ...

18 months later, EU Member States have the satisfaction that the agreement concluded with Turkey on 16 March 2016 will (finally !) lie on firm legal grounds : on 22 September 2017, a decision of the Greek Council of State indeed recognises Turkey as a “safe third country”.

As a consequence, the two Syrian plaintiffs who initiated the appeal against the inadmissibility decisions concerning their asylum application (in lower court and appeal committee) can henceforth be returned to Turkey… That was in fact the ambition of the deal concluded between our heads of state or government and R. Erdogan …

Given that the EU-Turkey agreement cannot be regarded as an European agreement, as acknowledged by the CJEU last February, the only remaining option at their disposal is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in order to possibly sustain their contestation regarding the inadmissibility of their application or, at least, to oppose their return to Turkey.

A decision with stiff consequences for refugees in the Greek islands

The decision of the Council of State creates a precedent that can only trigger distress among the hundreds of people (from 750 to 1000 according to the different sources) that now fear the implementation of a return decision following an appeal dismissal. What’s more, it is likely to lead both courts of first instance and appeal boards to radicalise their decisions, the former on the inadmissibility of asylum applications submitted by persons who have transited through Turkey, the latter on the numerous appeals currently pending.

In this context, the fact that Greece is being encouraged by the European Commission to prepare and organise returns more effectively by ensuring the physical presence of potential migrants can only add to the concern. The Commission notes that, up to now, the number of returns to Turkey has been smaller than the number of new arrivals in Greece, which does not make it possible to alleviate the pressure prevailing in the Greek islands reception centres.

A controversial decision

As one can easily imagine, the decision of the Greek State Council immediately aroused the reactions of the civil society and lawyers (not only in Greece !), because if there is a country to which the term "safe" does not seem to be applicable at present, it is Turkey. It should be remembered that, according to European legislation (Procedure Directive, Article 38), for a country to be considered a "safe third party", it is necessary that : 

  • asylum seekers life and liberty are not threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion ;
  • the principle of non-refoulement in accordance with the Geneva Convention is respected
  • the prohibition of removal, in violation of the right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as laid down in international law, is respected ;
  • the possibility exists to request refugee status and, if found to be a refugee, to receive protection in accordance with the Geneva Convention.
  • a connection exists between the applicant and the third country concerned on the basis of which it would be reasonable for that person to go to that country.

Yet, none of these criteria is actually fulfilled by Turkey. While the legislation on asylum and immigration has recently been modified, Syrian refugees have only been granted a temporary guest status and other nationalities benefit from even less, as Turkey applies a geographical reservation (to European countries) to the transposition of the Geneva Convention. Despite the Turkish authorities’ denials, numerous testimonies show that practices of refoulement towards Syria are common, especially since the declaration of a state of emergency ; the readmission agreements signed by Turkey with a number of third countries facilitate forcible return operations. As for the fact of having transited through the country to reach Europe, it cannot be seriously interpreted as a "connection link" between the applicant and that country.

A decision, undoubtedly welcome by EU Council

Sure enough, the EU Council will take advantage of this decision from the highest Greek court to accept the Commission proposal and follow the European Council’s incentives and decide to adopt a list of "safe third countries” which would constitute one of the grounds for asylum applications inadmissibility, as envisaged in the draft of the regulation on common procedures, currently under discussion.

For further information :

- CJEU : The General Court declares that it lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine the actions brought by three asylum seekers against the EU-Turkey statement which seeks to resolve the migration crisis - Press release, 28 February 2017.

- European Council : Conclusions of the meetings of 22 and 23 June 2017

- Amnesty International : “Refugees at heightened risk of refoulement under Turkey’s state of emergency”, 22 September 2017. 

Retour à la page précédente