By Giorgos Kosmopoulos, Amnesty International’s Europe Researcher on Migration
You may never know his real name, but this week a Syrian asylum-seeker may unwillingly become an historic figure in the refugee crisis. I met him in detention, during a research visit on the island of Lesvos last week.
Known as “Noori” to protect his identity, this 21 year old student risks becoming the first refugee to be forcibly returned from Greece to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal without the substance of his asylum claim being considered, setting a dangerous new precedent.
Greece’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, is currently considering whether to suspend his deportation, following an earlier decision by the Asylum Appeals Committee that Turkey is a “safe third country” for Syrians. But evidence suggests that Turkey, at least currently, is far from safe for asylum-seekers and refugees.
Noori comes from a family of doctors and wanted to help others in Syria, so he went to university to study nursing: “I wanted to become a nurse to help the injured. After all I have seen is the least I can do.”
He told me he was eight months into his training when the bombings made it impossible to reach the hospital. In April 2015 his village was hit and he saw two neighbouring families die with his own eyes. He was close friends with the son of one of the families.
The father was the headmaster of my school, only my friend survived from the bombing, the rest of the family died. This is when I decided to leave, I couldn’t take it anymore.Noori
So Noori left Syria on 9 June 2016 and headed to Europe in search of safety; in search of a future.
His journey to Greece took him through Turkey, but getting into the country wasn’t easy. He explained that during his first two attempts he was arrested by the police and beaten by the Turkish military, before being sent back to Syria. On his third attempt, he said, his group was attacked by an armed group and 11 of his companions were killed.
Finally, on his fourth attempt, he made it in and stayed in Turkey for one and a half months. Fellow Syrians told him how difficult it is to get work there and said that following the failed coup the situation is even more unstable. They told him that Syrians are “not treated like human beings”. Noori was scared and felt that there was “no future” for him there. His aim was to travel on to Europe where he has relatives, so he didn’t apply for asylum and continued on to Greece, arriving on the island of Lesvos on 28 July 2016.
He applied for asylum in Greece days after arriving, but his application was declared “inadmissible” and dismissed without further examination. Turkey was deemed a “safe country” for Noori to return to, a decision which was upheld on appeal. He was arrested immediately.
A fiction that Turkey is “safe”
This ruling takes for granted that a Syrian refugee will be fully protected in Turkey and hence is fundamentally flawed. The idea that Turkey fully respects the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees is a fiction, at least currently. Turkey does not have a fully-functioning asylum system and should never have been deemed a safe country for asylum-seekers, when all evidence suggests that international protections required under the Refugee Convention are not in place.
Turkey does not offer full refugee status to Syrian refugees. The vast majority of asylum-seekers and refugees do not have the means to support themselves and are not granted state support. As a result many refugees are destitute and living in appalling conditions.
With lawyers and international monitors still denied entry into the closed camps to which Noori could be sent, any suggestion that Turkey is a “safe third country” remains in serious doubt.@PrimeministerGR Stop first forcible deportation of #refugee to Turkey under #EUTurkeyDeal Click To Tweet
A dangerous precedent
Noori wants to join his cousin in Europe and work to support his family back home or continue his studies, something he fears would be impossible in Turkey. He is scared that he would be homeless and in danger there.
Right now Noori should be beginning his career as a nurse, looking after his seven younger sisters and brothers, making his own life. Instead he finds himself detained in Greece facing possible deportation, which could come very soon as the court considers his case.
He misses his friends and is unable to speak to his family from the prison.
He has this message to Greece’s Prime Minister Tsipras:
By deporting Noori to Turkey, Greece – on behalf of the EU – would be taking an ominous step in history, by deliberately turning away a refugee – without first examining the substance of his asylum claim – under this cruel and dodgy deal with Turkey.
To European leaders, Noori says that he – and other refugees – simply want to be somewhere safe: “You are safe, please open your eyes and see why we came here.”
The irony is that Europe is seen by refugees as safe largely because they see it as a defender of human rights. But if Europe wants to maintain this reputation on the world stage it needs to act accordingly. Turning away refugees who are seeking protection is hardly deserving of such recognition.PrimeministerGR Stop first forcible deportation of #refugee to Turkey under #EUTurkeyDeal Click To Tweet
Greece: Stop the return of Syrian refugee in Turkey:Take Action Now