Refugees trapped on Greek island as Turkey deal stutters

Refugees on Greek islands who were seemingly destined to return to Turkey under the terms of the March 2016 EU-Turkey deal have been stuck on the islands after Turkey suspended its bilateral arrangements with Greece, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports.

“Almost 17,000 women, men, and children … are trapped in chaotic and dangerous conditions, with many unable to get basic services. Most are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Women (22 percent) and children (37 percent) make up more than half the population,” said HRW.

Conditions on the island are extremely poor – often “without security, electricity, showers, or running water” – making life a struggle for the many people from vulnerable groups stuck on the islands.

“Meanwhile, the numbers of asylum seekers entering Greece via the land border with Turkey is increasing. Those people cannot be sent back to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal at all since it only covers arrivals by sea,” said HRW.

Turkey suspended its bilateral agreements with Greece for migrant readmission in early June, after Greek courts released Turkish servicemen who had fled to the country to seek asylum after the failed 2016 coup attempt.

With the route back to Turkey now appearing impossible, the European Union should take more responsibility for the refugees, the majority of whom are from Syria, and end its containment policy to allow more of them to reach improved conditions on the mainland.

Turkey agreed to take back refugees from the Greek islands after Europe was stricken by a “refugee crisis” in 2015. Over 3 million Syrian refugees are accommodated in Turkey, which is also an important stopping point on the route to Europe for refugees from central and eastern Asia.