ATHENS (Reuters) - A ruling by Greece’s top administrative court that two Syrian asylum seekers can be safely returned to Turkey sets a dangerous precedent for thousands of refugees, according to Amnesty International.
About 62,000 refugees and migrants, mainly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis aiming for northern Europe, have been stranded in Greece since European countries closed their borders in March last year. Most live in overcrowded camps.
“The ruling sets an ominous precedent for many other asylum-seekers who have fled conflict and persecution and are currently stranded on Greek islands,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.
“These decisions breach a very clear principle - Greece and the EU should not be sending asylum seekers and refugees back to a country in which they cannot get effective protection,” Dalhuisen said.
Greece’s Council of State on Friday rejected the appeals of the two Syrians against earlier rulings, declaring their asylum claims inadmissible.
“The court rejected the Syrians’ claims that their life and freedom would be in danger if they were returned to Turkey, as the judges opined this did not emerge from any evidence,” a court official said, declining to be named.
The court’s ruling also took into consideration that the two Syrians had links to Turkey, because their families and relatives are there, the court official said.
If the two Syrians are deported, it will mark the first formal return of asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey on the basis that Turkey is a safe country since an EU-Turkey deal came into force.
The EU-Turkey deal, signed in March 2016, aims to return asylum seekers from Greek islands to Turkey, which receives billions of euros in aid.
So far under the EU-Turkey deal, only migrants who do not qualify for international protection have been forced to return. Some Syrians have returned voluntarily, authorities say.
Reporting by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Andrew Bolton