The EU’s deal with Turkey to deport immigrants is being challenged in the European Court of Justice.
Three asylum seekers lodged a legal challenge at the Luxembourg court last week. They argue the deal to send back all those who land on the Greek islands to the Turkish mainland breaches European laws protecting asylum seekers from being sent back to warzones.
The complaint strikes at the heart of the deal’s legal architecture: the argument that Turkey is a safe country for refugees. National ambassadors were informed of the move – which risks derailing the fragile deal – in a confidential memorandum from the European Council’s legal service on June 7. It was leaked to Statewatch, the civil liberties website.
Human rights groups denounced the bargain, under which Turkey was rewarded with €6bn in aid and visa-free travel rights, as a violation of European values. The complainants are two Pakistanis, currently held at the ‘No Borders’ refugee camp on Lesbos and an Afghan, who is staying at the Onofiyta camp in Athens.
They argue it breaches their rights under the European Charter to dignity, the right to asylum and the right to be protected from expulsion to a place where they are at risk of inhuman or degrading treatment. They argue that the deal also breaches the rule of non-refoulement, that says asylum seekers cannot be sent back to countries where they are at risk being been deported to a place of danger.
They also argue the Greek asylum system, including reception centres, has “serious flaws at all levels”, the memo says. The European Commission said it stood by the deal as “legal, practical and by design respects the principle of non-refoulement.”
The fragile deal has brought about a dramatic fall in boats crossing the Aegean – from several thousand people a day to just a few dozen. But plans for fast-track asylum hearings and rapid returns have faltered, as Greek asylum officials are inundated with appeals. There are more than 8,000 people waiting in camps on the holiday islands, but fewer than 500 have been deported to Turkey.
It came as the UN’s human rights chief criticised EU states for detaining immigrants.
“They have observed a worrying increase in detention of immigrants in Europe, including in the hotspots, (which are) essentially vast mandatory confinement areas which have been set up in Greece and Italy,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “Even unaccompanied children are frequently placed in prison cells or centres ringed with barbed-wire.”Mr Zeid also decried “the widespread anti-migrant rhetoric that we have heard, spanning the length and breadth of the European continent.”
“This fosters a climate of divisiveness, xenophobia and even, as in Bulgaria, vigilante violence,” he said.