Read caption Refugees walk back after a failed attempt to pass the Greek border near the Meric (Evros) River, as they try to find a way to reach Greek territory at the Turkish-Greek border in the Ipsala district of Edirne, Turkey. Photo: EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU/NTB Scanpix

People have the right to seek asylum and should not be pushed back

Published 03. Mar 2020
When Europe is pushing people back from its borders, denying them their right to seek asylum, this is a breach of the Refugee Convention, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

Between 10,000 and 15,000 refugees and migrants have arrived the border area between Turkey and mainland Greece, according to the UN. Greek authorities have said they will suspend the registration and processing of asylum claims for a month and they will return people to their country of origin where possible.

The reaction from Greece must be seen in light of the current lack of responsibility sharing within Europe, but the EU must now ensure that people turning up at its outer borders are not denied their rights.


Turkey is no longer preventing refugees and migrants from crossing the borders into Greece and Bulgaria. Turkish police, coastguards and border security officials have been ordered to stand down on refugees' land and sea crossings towards Europe in anticipation of the imminent arrival of refugees from Idlib, according to Reuters. At the beginning of March thousands of refugees and migrants were trying to cross into mainland Greece, and there has been an increase in the number of people arriving in the Greek islands by boat.

Increase in people arriving in the islands

Several hundred people have arrived in the islands during recent days, a substantial increase from the first two months of the year. The increase comes on top of an already high number of asylum seekers in Greece. The country's reception system is stretched beyond its limits – leaving refugees and migrants in deplorable conditions in the Greek islands. Europe needs to better prepare for a potential further increase in the numbers.

Deplorable conditions

“The conditions that we have in the camps now are at the same level as at the very beginning of the crisis four years ago. At that time, I was astonished that such conditions could occur in Europe, in a functioning democracy like Greece, with no conflict or natural disasters preceding the crisis,” says NORCAP expert Patric Mansour.

NORCAP is a part of the Norwegian Refugee Council, and Patric Mansour has been deployed to Lesvos since the start of refugee crisis in August 2015. He has seen the camp change, people come and go, and the rising desperation and frustration among camp inhabitants, host communities and Greek authorities.

Europe should support Greece

Europe needs to better share the responsibility for asylum seekers arriving to the continent. The capacity in Greece is overstretched, the conditions in the camps precarious, and other countries should urgently step up their support by relocating some refugees from Greece. Such relocations are needed independently of whether we witness a continued increase in the arrivals to Greece or not, but the need will of course be even more urgent if numbers increase.

Turkey must open its border with Syria

Turkey has generously hosted millions of refugees from Syria over the years. But the fighting in Idlib is now squeezing people further and further north and at the moment they have nowhere else to go. We are calling on Turkey to let these terrified families seek safety across its borders. Many of the families have been displaced multiple times in Syria and now have nowhere left to run. At the same time, Europe and the international community need to step up and provide Turkey with the necessary support. Everyone’s first objective now must be to ensure that these people fleeing for safety receive the necessary protection in line with the Refugee Convention.



  • Greece has said it will not allow people to seek asylum next month and will push people back.

  • 6,000 asylum seekers had arrived in Greece by the end of February. The number of people arriving in the Greek islands increased in early March with Turkey’s announcement that it would no longer prevent people from crossing the borders into Greece and Bulgaria.

  • Last year, Greece received about 75,000 asylum seekers and is now hosting 115,000 refugees and migrants.

  • Some 40,750 refugees and asylum seekers reside on the Aegean islands. The majority of the population on the Aegean islands are from Afghanistan (49%), Syria (19%) and Somalia (6%).

  • The capacity is stretched to the limits and people are living in precarious conditions. Moria camp at Lesvos, which was built for 3,000 people, is currently housing 20,000.

  • Last week 778 people arrived in the Greek islands, most to Samos and Lesvos.

  • In line with experience from previous years, we would expect the number of arrivals to increase during spring and summer.

  • NRC has 14 experts sent out through NORCAP to support the Greek authorities with handling the crisis.

  • Frontex has been asked to help protect Greece and Europe’s borders.



  • Turkey is hosting about 3.6 million Syrian refugees.


Syria – Idlib situation:

  • Close to a million people (948,000) have been displaced by fighting in Idlib since December, the fastest growing displacement situation since the start of the conflict. More than half of them are children.

  • At least 330,000 people have fled to areas under Turkey’s control in northern Syria.

  • In 1 – 5 February alone, at least 49 civilians, including 17 children, were killed in North West Syria. In January, at least 186 civilians, including more than 60 children, were killed (OHCHR).

  • 11.1 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid, and 4.7 million have acute needs.