MEDIA ADVISORY: NGOs mark 6 years of EU-Turkey Statement which continues to undermine refugee rights


March 2022 marks six years since the launch of the EU-Turkey Statement, which stipulated that people crossing irregularly to the Greek islands from Turkey would be returned there without having their asylum claims considered on merits in Greece. The Statement has become a hallmark of the EU shirking its responsibility to protect refugees, and continues to cause significant harm to people seeking protection in Greece. The impact of the EU-Turkey Statement was worsened in June 2021 by the Greek government’s own decision to designate Turkey as a ‘safe third country’ of asylum to which it would return people from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia, and Syria– the five nationalities that represented the majority of asylum applications in Greece last year.

In a new briefing, eight NGOs are calling on Greece and the EU to retract the EU-Turkey Statement and abandon the safe third country concept.

As Turkey has not accepted any returns since 2020, thousands of rejected asylum seekers are now stuck in legal limbo in Greece, where they have no right to housing, cash assistance or work.

“The EU-Turkey Statement and subsequent designation of Turkey as a ‘safe third country’ are both efforts to limit access to a fair and effective asylum procedure. The IRC believes everyone’s asylum application should be examined on its merits, irrespective of where they come from” said Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, Country Director for International Rescue Committee Greece.

 “Ukraine has shown that where there is a will, there is a way to ensure the rights of even large numbers of refugees are protected in Europe. With the EU-Turkey Statement, the EU instead outsourced its responsibilities and prioritised deterring arrivals. It’s time to finally abandon this hostile and inhumane approach” said Anita Bay, Director of Save the Children Europe.

“Greece's decision not to consider the asylum applications of thousands of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and two other countries on their merit has been affected vulnerable people, such as children, pregnant women, the chronically ill and the elderly" says Leda Avgousti, Head of Terre des hommes Hellas, adding: "We are able to know that in addition to the serious impact that the uncertainty about their fate has on the mental state of these people, it  impacts the access of families to food, and of children to education".

"It is evident that the policy of externalising the responsibility to protect refugees, through the EU-Turkey Statement and more recently the Joint Ministerial Decision which expands its scope in Greece, has failed. It has failed our common values, our shared legal framework and most importantly the rights and the dignity of refugees and the life of local communities at the EU's borders. The EU policy on asylum and migration needs to be reviewed, with a focus on protecting human life and dignity, human rights, and the principle of responsibility sharing amongst EU member states," adds Lefteris Papagiannakis, Director of the Greek Council for Refugees

The EU-Turkey deal, the subsequent designation of Turkey as a "safe third country", and then the designation of Albania and North Macedonia as safe third countries, showcase the externalisation of Greece's and the EU's responsibility towards asylum seekers. The consequences so far for those seeking international protection are dire as they are trapped in a limbo where homelessness and poverty are inevitable. Greece's duty to respect human rights and human dignity requires a change of direction and the examination of all asylum claims on their merits.adds Epaminondas Farmakis, Director of HumanRights360.

“People’s right to seek asylum and access fair processes is being regularly denied across the EU. The EU-Turkey statement and other unilateral declarations are increasingly leaving people in a legal limbo due to an unfounded decision of inadmissibility of people's claims, without analysis for their merit. This is a political choice and not a rights-based policy approach. The EU should be accountable for the legal frameworks it is the custodian of and acknowledge these failures by immediately acting to address them, and ensure they are not repeated” adds Alba Cauchi, Country Director for DRC Greece.

Read the two-page briefing from International Rescue Committee, Danish Refugee Council, Greek Council for Refugees, Greek Forum of Refugees, HumanRights360, Refugees International, Save the Children and Terre des hommes.

Key facts

  • Between March 2016 and March 2020, 2,100 refugees who made the difficult and often very dangerous journey to reach the islands of Greece were returned to Turkey.
  • The five nationalities in a Joint Ministerial Decision (JMD) of June 2021 accounted for 60 per cent of all asylum applications in the country last year, most of which were successful.
  • There were 5,907 rejections of applications as “inadmissible” based on the JMD in 2021
  • A 100€ per person fee was introduced in September 2021 for those who wish to re-apply for asylum, including those deemed ‘inadmissible’. This creates a further – and insurmountable – barrier to people’s right to seek asylum.

Notes to editors:

  • For details of the impact of the EU-Turkey statement and subsequent policies adopted by the Greek government, see this new two-page briefing :
  • For interviews, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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