- Rory O'Keeffe
Greece's non-functional asylum service
UNHCR reports that between 1 April 2016 and 6 October 2017, 1,360 people have been returned from Greece to Turkey. The majority – 593 – were from Pakistan, where terror attacks are rife, and Turkey does not grant protected status to Pakistani nationals, meaning that these people are now either stateless, or must return to a country they were so afraid living in would kill them, that they ran away.
The next highest number were Syrians (216); then Algerians (163); Bangladeshis (92) and then Moroccans (38). Quite why these people are considered to be ‘supposed’ to be in Turkey, rather than Greece or any other EU state, is unclear.
Just over half (51 per cent) are described by the UN as having ‘no will to apply for asylum’ (36 per cent); ‘withdrew their will to apply’ (6 per cent) or ‘withdrew their asylum claim’ (nine per cent).
It’s worth noting here that both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported that Greek police are not explaining refugees’ rights to them on arrival on the Greek islands, and that some people who have been returned appear not to have been informed even that they are allowed to apply for asylum.
We should also note (in the 15 per cent who withdrew their ‘will to apply’ or withdrew their application) that the EU’s policy on creating detention centres on the Aegean islands was specifically to discourage people from coming to – and settling in – the EU.
Thirty-three per cent had their applications rejected (the Greek asylum service is extraordinarily under-staffed, and many agency staff are not being paid regularly, while the EU has simply failed to provide the officers it promised to Greece – the result is that, as in cases of people I actually know, many applications are not being read properly. Instead, staff are scanning documents and if the nationality does not say ‘Syrian’, rejecting it outright. This is of course not how the asylum process is supposed to work. Far from it, in fact).
Meanwhile, six per cent had their cases ‘discontinued’, which is interesting because the small print reads that this includes people who withdrew their asylum claims, meaning that in fact up to 15 per cent, rather than nine per cent of people, ‘withdrew’ their claims.
One withdrawal in every ten cases is an extraordinarily high number for an EU state. One in 6.67 is remarkable.
UNHCR also notes that ‘no information is available’ for ten per cent of those forced back into Turkey, including for every single one of the 71 people sent back in May and August 2016.
As noted on 23 September, Amnesty and others decried a decision by the Greek Council of State that Turkey is a ‘safe state’, with a series of reminders that for many people who would be allowed to claim asylum in the EU, it simply is not. Turkey does not grant refugee status to anyone (though it does offer ‘protected person’ status in some cases) and has stated it does not regard Afghani citizens, or people from Pakistan, as needing protection.