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EU-Turkey refugee deal 'reckless and illegal'

‘Amnesty’s findings expose as a fiction the idea that Turkey is able to respect the rights and meet the needs of over three million asylum-seekers and refugees’ - John Dalhuisen

The deal struck between the European Union and Turkey whereby asylum-seekers are returned to Turkey is ‘reckless and illegal’ Amnesty International said today (3 June) as it published new research on the returns programme. 

The 34-page report details the serious short-comings in Turkey’s asylum system and the hardships refugees face. The report shows how the Turkish asylum system fails three crucial tests required under international law for the return of asylum-seekers to Turkey to be lawful. Those tests are: Turkey’s ability to make an assessment of their asylum status, to provide responses to refugees' displacement which are safe and durable and to ensure the basic needs of asylum-seekers are met.

Turkey’s asylum system is currently struggling to cope with more than three million asylum-seekers and refugees. As a result, asylum-seekers face years waiting for their cases to be dealt with, during which time they receive little or no support to find shelter and sustenance for themselves and their families, with children as young as nine working to support themselves and their families.

Amnesty researchers interviewed 57 refugees in Turkey between March and May this year, all described the struggle to survive with almost no financial support from the authorities and the vast majority relying on charity from family members, fellow asylum-seekers, or religious communities. Refugees told Amnesty how they live in shoddy or make-shift accommodation, sometimes sleeping in mosques, parks and metro stations because they cannot afford to pay for rented accommodation. Two Afghan families were found to be sleeping under a bridge in Istanbul after three of their children drowned in a failed sea-crossing.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia Director, said:

“The EU-Turkey deal is reckless and illegal. Amnesty’s findings expose as a fiction the idea that Turkey is able to respect the rights and meet the needs of over three million asylum-seekers and refugees.

“The European Union has responded to one of the darkest humanitarian catastrophes of our time by putting up fences, deploying more border guards, and striking dodgy deals with neighbouring countries to keep people out. The result is misery and suffering, and more deaths at sea.”


Turkey failing to protect refugees

Despite Turkey’s broadly welcoming attitude towards refugees, the large numbers of people – about 2.75 million Syrian refugees and 400,000 asylum-seekers and refugees from other countries (primarily Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran) – have inevitably placed a considerable strain both on Turkey’s new asylum system and its capacity to meet people’s basic needs.

The Turkish asylum system fails three crucial tests required under international law for the return of asylum-seekers to Turkey to be lawful: status, durable solutions and subsistence.

Child refugees working to make ends meet

Amnesty’s report also warns that child labour is common among refugees in Turkey as families struggle to meet basic needs. A Syrian mother of three boys told Amnesty that her entire family of seven survives on the 5-10 Turkish Lira a day (about £1.20 to £2.50) that her nine-year old son earns working at a grocery store. The shrapnel injuries her husband sustained in Syria prevent him from working.

EU must share, not outsource, responsibility

Rather than off-loading its responsibilities on Turkey, the EU should be looking to kick-start an ambitious resettlement programme for refugees currently in the country, said Amnesty.

Turkey hosts more than three million asylum-seekers and refugees, more than any other country in the world.

Further detail on legal failings:

  1. Status

Turkey lacks the capacity to process asylum applications, meaning that hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers and refugees languish in legal limbo for years at a time. The Turkish authorities have refused to provide Amnesty with asylum statistics. In April, however, they reported having processed around 4,000 applications, or 1.5% of the 266,000 applications registered with the UN Refugee Agency, in 2015.     

  1. Durable solutions

Refugees should either be integrated in the country, resettled to another country or, if safe, repatriated to their country of origin. However, Turkey denies full refugee status, and with it integration, to all non-European refugees, while the international community is failing to provide anywhere close to sufficient resettlement options/places. This leaves many refugees in a double-bind, where they cannot build a new life in Turkey but they have little hope of being offered the option to resettle to another country in the coming years.

Faiza, (whose name has been changed) and her sister, both Afghans, fled forced marriages in Iran and were recognised as refugees in Turkey. For three years, they waited in vain for an interview at a resettlement country’s embassy. In the end they saw no other option but to risk their lives in a smuggler’s boat to Greece.

Faiza told Amnesty that had there been any reasonable prospect of leaving Turkey safely and regularly, and some support while waiting for the process to conclude, she and her sister would have waited. She explained: “If there was any hope of resettlement, we would have waited. We were really scared of the journey to Europe because we knew it was dangerous. But…we were so desperate. We said to ourselves: ‘Maybe we will die, maybe we won’t arrive – but it doesn’t matter because we can’t stay in Turkey anymore’.”

  1. Subsistence

The vast majority of Syrian and other refugees in Turkey are forced to seek shelter without government support. Although the Turkish authorities are accommodating more than 264,000 Syrian refugees in camps in the southern border provinces, they cannot realistically provide shelter for the remaining 90% (2.48 million) from Syria. Meanwhile, it has only made social housing available for 100 of the 400,000 (0.025%) asylum-seekers and refugees from other countries. This means that approximately three million asylum-seekers and refugees are being left to meet their own shelter needs as best they can.

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