Legal note: UNHCR has failed to stand up for refugee rights during crucial EU-Turkey deal judge


In a joint legal note, Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) and PRO ASYL have analyzed the role of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in a rule of the Council of State (Greece’s highest administrative court) against applications made by two Syrian male asylum-seekers challenging the negative decisions by one of Greece’s Asylum Appeals Committees that considered Turkey a ‘safe third country’ for them. RSA and PRO ASYL consider bringing cases of Syrians facing deportation to Turkey before the European Court of Human Rights in Strassbourg.

Correspondence produced by UNHCR was of particular importance on the outcome of the two cases at all stages of the asylum procedure. RSA and PRO ASYL highlight that both the Greek Asylum Service and the Appeals Committees have systematically based their findings that Turkey is a ‘safe third country’ on two letters by UNHCR when issuing inadmissibility decisions in cases of Syrian refugees.

The rulings by the Council of State in these two cases open the door to forcible returns of Syrian asylum seekers to Turkey under provisions of the EU-Turkey deal. UNHCR has avoided any public position or intervention that could compromise the political dynamic or tribunal proceedings around the recognition of Turkey as a safe third country. RSA and PRO ASYL call on UNHCR to take a more critical stand on the issue of Turkey qualifying as a safe country for refugees.

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) is a Greek non-profit organization focusing on strategic litigations in support of refugees, monitoring human rights violations, as well as the provision of legal, social and humanitarian support in individual cases. Members of the organization are based on the islands and on the mainland and visit different parts of Greece in order to document the situation there. RSA is the implementing partner of the PRO ASYL Foundation project RSPA – Refugee Support Program Aegean in Greece.