Barbed wire fences surrounding the refugee reception facilities on the islands. Photo: Matthew Cassel

EU-Turkey deal makes seeking refuge in Europe “mission impossible” for most vulnerable

Published 16. Mar 2017
Flawed policies are eroding refugee rights, say IRC, NRC & Oxfam in joint report released today

Athens, 17 March 2017 – The EU-Turkey deal has turned Greece into a testing ground for European Union policies that are eroding the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, and expose people to risk and abuse, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), and Oxfam said today. The humanitarian agencies warned the deal is causing human suffering and should under no circumstances be replicated with other countries.

20 March, 2017 marks one year since the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal which allows Europe to return asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey, outsourcing their responsibilities to protect people who come to Europe in search of safety.

In a new report “The reality of the EU-Turkey statement - How Greece has become a testing ground for policies that erode protection for refugees." the three organizations showcase how vulnerable people are forced to live in degrading conditions, and it outlines the many ways in which asylum seekers are barred from exercising their right to a fair asylum process.

The EU-Turkey deal is playing roulette with the futures of some of the world’s most vulnerable. It has become mission impossible for those who need it most to seek refuge in Europe,”
Panos Navrozidis, the IRC’s Country Director in Greece.

The right of refugees to have their individual asylum claims examined is crucial to protect people against being returned to a place where they may be at risk, as enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, on the Greek islands, the primary focus is on whether people can be returned, without assessing their individual case. People fleeing the war in Syria, for instance, need to go through an “admissibility” procedure, which does not assess the individual reasons why people were forced to flee.

The report highlights major gaps in critically needed legal counselling and assistance to navigate the confusing, constantly changing asylum procedures.  For example, it was decided at a certain point that unaccompanied children could no longer prove their age with an original birth certificate; instead they were requested to present passports or national ID cards – even in cases where such documents are not issued to children under 18 years.

As a result, asylum seekers are forced to navigate the lengthy and drawn-out process with little to no assistance, while they are exposed to further rights violations and often appalling conditions. Making matters worse, there are significant concerns about the expertise and quality of interviews conducted by European Asylum Support Office staff sent by EU countries to support Greece, as well as significant concerns also about lack of oversight of the process.

Following the EU-Turkey deal, basic human rights and the rights of people in need of asylum are being trampled on. Europe has set a dangerous precedent and we fear that it will be all too easy for other countries to also shirk their responsibility in providing international protection
Nicola Bay, Country Director for Oxfam in Greece.

Over the course of the last year, asylum seekers on the Greek islands were, and continue to be, sheltered in tents, even during freezing winter weather. Children, women and men continue to be exposed to risks to their health and wellbeing daily, and many have limited access to basic services such as medical and psychological support to help overcome trauma.

The EU justified its agreement with Turkey as a temporary response to an emergency situation. People fleeing war and persecution have been met with uncertainty and a lack of necessary legal support to prepare for interviews which will seal their fate
Gianmaria Pinto, Country Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The EU has touted the EU-Turkey deal as a model for further agreements with other countries. The IRC, NRC and Oxfam however warn that basic human rights and the right to seek international protection are at stake if EU member states continue their inhuman response to people arriving on our shores who are in desperate need.



Note to editors:

  • One year ago, European states closed their borders along the Western Balkan route and European Union (EU) leaders put in place the EU-Turkey Statement a so-called temporary measure to stop irregular migration to Europe.
  • The EU-Turkey deal was announced on March 18, 2016, and implemented from March 20, 2016.
  • Over the last month, the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and Oxfam conducted a joint mission to evaluate the impact on the ground in the year since the agreement came into effect. They visited Chios, Lesbos, and Samos – three of the islands that have been on the frontline of the asylum seeker arrivals. They interviewed asylum seekers, lawyers and other responders who are directly involved or impacted by the EU-Turkey deal.
  • Read the full briefing paper here


International Rescue Committee

The International Rescue Committee is a humanitarian aid organisation working in 40 countries across the world, and committed to helping people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. More information about the IRC’s response in Greece.

Norwegian Refugee Council

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is an independent, international, humanitarian non-governmental organisation, which provides assistance, protection and contributes to durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced people worldwide. 


Oxfam is an international confederation of 19 organizations working together with partners and local communities in more than 90 countries. Read more about Oxfam’s humanitarian response in Greece.


Spokespeople available in Greece and in Brussels. The authors of the report are based in Greece but will be in Brussels 20 and 21 March.

To arrange interviews / for additional information about the report, please contact: