The number of asylum seekers coming to Greece has reduced after the adoption of the deal in March 2016 and has had severe consequences on the human rights of people on the move.
Closely intertwined with the deal is Greece’s “hotspot” approach to migration. Since 2016, five Greek islands, Samos, Lesvos, Kos, Chios and Leros have been used as mass containment sites where thousands of people have been confined in inhuman and degrading conditions as they await their answer for their claims for protection.
The hotspot approach, combined with the EU-Turkey Deal has had disastrous consequences for people stuck on the hotspot islands. Not only are people from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh and Pakistan confined to the islands for the duration of their asylum applications as per the hotspot approach, they must also go through an additional interview, called the ‘admissibility interview’, where in line with the EU-Turkey deal they must prove that Turkey is not a safe country for them.
For those who cannot prove that Turkey is unsafe for them, they are deemed ‘inadmissible’ and, as such, are not permitted to continue with their asylum application. In accordance with the EU-Turkey Deal, these people should then be returned to Turkey. Yet, from 2016 to 2020, only 2.140 people were returned to Turkey from Greece, with many more who were deemed to be ‘inadmissible’ remaining stuck on the islands. Furthermore, since March 2020, there have been no returns to Turkey. The official explanation for this is because of the Covid pandemic, but it is suspected that this is also due to the increase in geopolitical tensions between Greece and Turkey in the same period.
Whatever the reason behind this halt in deportation, the crucial point is that for asylum seekers from the 5 EU-Turkey Deal nationalities, if they cannot prove that Turkey is unsafe for them, they are stuck in a limbo: they are blocked from continuing with their asylum application, meaning that they must stay on the hotspot islands and endure inhumane living conditions, while at the same time they cannot be deported to Turkey.
It is also important to note that since 2016, there has been a strong increase in pushbacks from Greece to Turkey, establishing pushbacks as “a de facto border policy”. Beside the deal, this is also a reason for a low number of new arrivals on the islands.