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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Josoor: human rights and human safety unravel before our eyes

The dissolution of Josoor could be a catastrophe for individuals and organisations all over the world. In responding to it, we must be aware of the unjustifiable policies and practices which made it impossible for it to continue.

The humanitarian organisation Josoor has announced it has ceased operating.

With immediate effect, it will no longer carry out advocacy, social media and press work, or support people who have been pushed back to Türkiye.

The dissolution may have a devastating impact on other organisations’ work, as well as on the people it worked to support and assist, because, being based in Türkiye, it was a major collector of transcripts and testimonies of men, women and children who had been pushed back from Greece.

And its reasons for ending its work are well worth sharing.

Josoor cites four major factors forcing it to make this decision:

First, the Turkish government’s change in approach towards new arrivals in its country, which the organisation says is largely down to the EU’s consistent failure to uphold its part of the EU-Turkey Deal.

As we have noted on a vast number of occasions, the EU-Turkey Deal is unacceptable under international (and therefore EU) law because it relies first on the declaration of Türkiye as a ‘safe third state’ – a designation which has absolutely no standing in international law – and then claims that this designation enables it, the EU, to deny entry from Türkiye to any person who is not from Syria (or Türkiye), on the grounds of their race alone (it also denies access to all Syrians who travel to the EU without prior permission) even though it is absolutely illegal to deny anyone the right to apply for asylum, and it is illegal to deny anyone asylum solely on the grounds of the country they are from.

But as well as this, the EU has refused to carry out its promise to grant Turkish citizens visa-free transport across the Schengen Zone, or to speed up Türkiye’s entry to the EU.

To be clear, there are very good reasons why the EU has not done this, but the simple fact is that it promised Türkiye that it would. Those promises are in the Deal, and the EU – as we said at the time the Deal was rushed together – should never have made them.

It did, and it has broken the promises it made.

Finally, under the Deal, the EU was supposed to give the Turkish government €6bn to take care of the 3.7m Syrian men, women and children who entered Türkiye to escape Assad’s war to retain power. This payment was supposed to have been made by 31 December 2018.

Three and a half years after that deadline – which the EU itself set – just €4.85bn has even been designated for payment (we may note that Greece, with a refugee population never above 130,000 people, has received €3.2bn from the EU since 2015), and included in that is cash for building walls along Türkiye’s borders with both Syria and Iran: it is illegal to deny people the right to access your country in order to apply for asylum. Even if the Turkish government does not care about this, the EU says that it does.

That is, the Turkish government and Turkish population have a very strong case both that the EU is an untrustworthy ‘partner’ and that it has effectively abandoned Türkiye (at best ‘left Türkiye to its own devices’) on the issue of refugees, enabling the government and population to enact and justify shocking and horrifying anti-refugee policies, which have become even more prevalent in the months since the country’s economic catastrophe began.

As Josoor notes, these range from deportations from Türkiye to Syria, (where organisations continually record that returnees face jail, torture and often death) to laws which make it impossible to get people who have been pushed back to hospitals for treatment because even taxi drivers are instructed to demand documents and if they are not provided, to drive immediately to police stations: people the Greek government is pushing back to Türkiye are now being almost immediately deported (especially because Greek police strip people of their documents before forcing them over the border), yet another reason why pushbacks must cease, now.

The organisation says:

The atmosphere in the country, completely abandoned by the international community, for decades played badly by Brussels, and now crushed by the economic crisis, makes a severe escalation of the situation seem so imminent that we can no longer carry the responsibility to ensure sufficient safety for our team, particularly those without privileged passports, as well as the people we support.

The second factor is the erosion of the Rule of Law in the EU. Because we are not dealing solely with a Greek government which believes Greek law should not and does not apply to it, but also an EU in which member states and the body itself believe EU and international law do not apply to them (and in any case are not enforced).

In February (Sunday 20 February 2022) the government of the Dominican Republic began to build a wall along its border with Haiti, to prevent Haitian people from entering the country – even though it is their right to travel to any state to apply for asylum.

As we noted then, the Dominican Republic’s government had already seen a US President elected on promises to ‘build a wall’ to keep Latin American people out, had seen EU member states build walls along their borders with one another to keep people from South-Western Asia out, had seen Türkiye use EU cash to build walls along its borders with Syria and Iran for the same purpose, and seen Greece build a wall on its border with Türkiye, and Poland on its border with Belarus, also to prevent people from entering. Of course, it believed it should be allowed to do the same.

We said:

This is how an international legal system ends. Not by everyone launching an all-out attack on it: under those circumstances, maybe some others would attempt to defend it, but by everyone, one-by-one, starting with the powerful, richest countries on earth, kicking just a small piece away from it. Enough to satisfy them, because ‘this is an exception’, ‘it’s just this once’, ‘the law never anticipated this situation’. (even though, in fact, it did). As more follow, the system is destroyed, collapsing and crushing our rights and safety beneath it.

This is what is happening, even as we watch.

Josoor points out that:

Particularly in the Greek-Turkish context, people are stuck in the crossfire of the conflict between the EU and Turkey. By supporting them, we have consciously put ourselves in the same position for as long as the risk of doing so was bearable. But this year, and particularly in the last two months, both sides of this conflict have made clear that there is no mercy at all anymore for people stuck in between. We simply don't have the mandate and funds to deal with this new level of escalation of the border regime responsibly.

Funding, too, has become too serious an issue to avoid, with Josoor revealing that it has only enough money to continue operating for two months at the most, even having spent money from its own staff’s pockets to continue operating (this is a serious concern for us, too: we cannot continue to operate on a budget of almost zero).

And the organisation also cites its staff’s mental health as a factor, pointing out that in working with people who have experienced several severely traumatic events, its own employees (who for funding and work permission reasons cannot be easily ‘rotated’ or given leave):

are constantly confronted with the traumatic effects of pushbacks and seeing people in severe crises.

By providing basic support to pushback survivors and witnessing border violence, our team was also constantly exposed to traumatic experiences, leading to secondary traumatisation, feelings of helplessness, depression, anxiety and more in this rapidly deteriorating environment.

When exposed to this distress for extended periods, it turns into severe chronic symptoms of mental health disorders that many of our team members have experienced for a long time. Among those are sleeping disorders, anxiety, stress, guilt, mood shifts and flashbacks as well as a general constant overload of the nervous system due to working on emergencies around the clock.

It is worth noting here that pushbacks and border violence are illegal.

The mental health problems experienced by people seeking safe places to live, learn and work are a direct result of governments deliberately breaking the law, in full knowledge of the fact that this is what they are doing.

The solution is simple.

We do not need ‘innovations’, or expensive ‘responses’, just for:

Governments and their employees to obey the law. This should not be too much to ask.

We cannot help but feel that there are people – the Greek and Turkish governments among them – who may rejoice that Josoor is ‘gone’, and would be just as happy to see any of us ‘leave’ as well.

But the main impacts here are on the people Josoor directly helps and helped – those who have been forced out of the EU and need basics such as food, water, healthcare (physical and mental) to survive, and then assistance in regaining and maintaining their rights as human beings – and those we all seek to work with and for: men, women and children seeking safe, decent, places to live, learn and work in all parts of the world.

Because pushbacks are happening, they are illegal, and an attack on our fundamental human rights.

With Josoor gone, we all must do more, not only to help people who have been pushed back from Greece and the wider EU, but also to talk about what is happening, why it is happening, and how it must change.


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