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Dispatches: Greece’s Prime Minister Should Uphold Refugee Rights at the Council of Europe

Tsipras should pledge Greece won’t deport people to Turkey without a fair appeal

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras should take the opportunity to address pressing concerns about the fate of refugees and asylum seekers in his speech today before the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. 

A Frontex officer (L) escorts a deportee onto a boat on the Greek island of Lesbos, April 4, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

First, Tsipras should pledge that Greece won’t deport people to Turkey without a fair appeal process. To date, Greece’s appeal committees have blocked the return of many Syrian asylum seekers to Turkey under the European Union-Turkey deal, on the grounds that it is not a safe third country.  The committees rightly assessed whether individuals would be able to have their rights as refugees fulfilled in Turkey and took decisions that they would not find effective protection in Turkey and should be admitted into the Greek asylum system.

However, following pressure from the European Commission, the Greek Parliament last week passed amendments that modify the composition of the committees, raising serious concerns this will open the door for mass returns of asylum seekers to Turkey.

Second, Tsipras should commit to end the blanket detention of asylum seekers reaching the Aegean Islands. The United Nations refugee agency and major humanitarian organizations suspended their aid once the open centers were converted into closed, prison-like encampments. While there is still some freedom of movement in and out of the camps, technically they are still detention centers.

During a recent visit to the island of Lesbos, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “detention is not the answer, it should end immediately.” Opening up the centers would not only send an important message to those inside, it would open the door to the much-needed return of the humanitarian agencies. Given the increasingly dire living conditions there, in particular for women and children, their presence is critical.

Finally, Tsipras should call on other EU countries to accelerate the process of relocating asylum seekers from Italy and Greece. After months of foot-dragging, those stuck in Greece should not have to wait any longer.

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