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Officials from the EU border agency Frontex on a boat between Lesbos, Greece and Dikili, Turkey, deporting migrants on April 4, 2016. © 2016 Getty

Yesterday I woke up to an alarming text message: “Hi, call me please. My brother today [will be] deported [to] Turkey.” The text was from Arash, a 30-year-old Iranian asylum seeker stuck on the Greek island of Lesbos, who was desperate to help his brother Amir, also stranded there. Less than an hour later, one of Amir’s lawyers confirmed the bad news. “They are deporting him in 15 minutes. Call whoever you can,” she urged me.

The next 15 minutes felt like a lifetime. As I frantically made one call after another to try and stall Amir’s return to Turkey, Amir was being taken to a boat in the harbour of Mytilene.

This should not have happened. The deportation was being carried out despite Amir having a request for judicial review pending in court. The Greek Aliens Police Director of Mytilene told me he knew of Amir’s pending review, but had orders to proceed anyway.

Amir, 26, and Arash were both activists in Iran, and Arash, a particularly prominent human rights activist, was imprisoned and tortured. Their father was killed by paramilitary forces almost two decades ago. Fearing further persecution, the brothers fled Iran and survived the treacherous journey to Greece, but border restrictions in the Western Balkans and a deeply flawed EU deal signed with Turkey – under which migrants arriving in Greece are expected to be sent back to Turkey if their asylum claim is rejected on the basis that Turkey is a safe country for them – stranded them on Lesbos.

Despite the risk of danger in Iran and Turkey’s dysfunctional asylum system, Amir’s first request for asylum – he had no lawyer present at his interview – and administrative appeal were rejected. This raises questions about the quality of asylum procedures on Lesbos under the EU-Turkey deal. Now, his only chance is the judicial review.

Human Rights Watch found serious gaps in access to information and legal assistance for those seeking asylum on Greek islands. Rather than helping Greece improve its systems, the European Commission is pushing to weaken procedural safeguards and protections in Greece and to speed up deportations to Turkey.

Minutes before the boat’s departure, our pleas were heard and Amir was taken off the vessel. But his return to Turkey is only stalled – police made it clear he will be on the next boat, without disclosing when this would be.

While Amir was taken back to detention, Arash posted on Facebook about his brother, “Where is that place where liberty has warm arms, for you and me?”

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