©Giorgos Moutafis/Amnesty International

Five years after the EU-Turkey Statement, European Civil Society demands an end to containment and deterrence at the EU’s External Borders

The 18th of March 2021 will mark five years since the announcement of the “EU-Turkey Statement”, under which EU and Turkish leaders agreed, among other things, that asylum seekers crossing from Turkey into Greek islands will be returned to Turkey. The statement led Greece to implement an array of laws and policies, designed to restrict the movement of asylum seekers, keep them in the designated “hotspots” on the islands (later named ‘Reception and Identification Centres”), and facilitate their readmission to Turkey.
The policy of containment at borders is central to the new European Pact on Migration and Asylum, which introduces a “pre-entry phase consisting of screening and border procedures for asylum and return”. According to the proposal, in this phase asylum seekers “shall not be authorised to enter the territory of the Member State”.

Negotiations on these plans press on, irrespective of mounting evidence of the serious human rights consequences of this approach, including appalling reception conditions, containment, and violent border control practices. In Greece, resulting bottlenecks led to severe overcrowding, substandard reception conditions and delayed asylum procedures. Meanwhile, local communities who were initially welcoming are increasingly frustrated with the deteriorating situation and lack of EU solidarity.

The harmful effects of the containment policy have been documented repeatedly by the undersigned organisations. Nearly half of the asylum seekers surveyed in these containment sites on the Greek islands have reported symptoms of PTSD, while 35% reported suicidal thoughts, and 18% reported having made attempts to take their own lives. Women and girls in particular are exposed to the risk of sexual and gender-based violence, and report being scared to leave their tents at night. The Director of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, Michael O’Flaherty, described the EU Hotspot Moria in Lesbos as “the single most worrying fundamental rights issue that we are confronting anywhere in the European Union”.