On September 22, The Greek Court (Council of State) approved the a court’s sentence to deport two Syrian refugees on the premise that Turkey is a safe third country.  The appellants, two Syrian refugees aged 22 and 29, have applied for the cancellation of the former decision allowing deportation.

The move reignited the debate around the readmission agreement between Turkey and Greece. The question was would the decision affect other asylum seekers or not. “Over 750 Syrian exiles are likely to be affected by the ruling by the Greek council of state” AFP stated, citing a source with knowledge of the case. 


Greek Court Decision paves the way…

In the same day that the decision was announced, Amnesty published an article suggesting that court decisions pave way for forcible returns. Previously, Amnesty released a report voicing its concern over unlawful returns from Turkey to Syria. With this decision, Amnesty claimed, unlawful and forcible returns may start. “Today’s ruling sets an ominous precedent for many other asylum-seekers who have fled conflict and persecution and are currently stranded on the Greek islands. Syrian refugees currently in detention following the rejection of their appeals are particularly at risk,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director. 


Greek court decision Amnesty
Amnesty was very active from the very beginning of the Greek Court Decision debate.


Similarly, the Washington Post, with contributions from the AP, announced the decision by taking further deportations for granted: Greek court says Syrian refugees can be returned to Turkey. “In a case with implications for thousands of refugees in Greece — and others planning to enter the country seeking asylum — the court found that deported refugees face no threat of torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, or punishment in Turkey.” AP’s Fanis Karabatsakis noted.

This news attracts attention to an issue that has been already falling into oblivion. While everyone pays utmost attention to Libya-Italy affairs, ]the risk of forcible deportations also came into question.


A Contrary Stance: Paolo Biondi writes

However, the Greek decision is very unlikely to pave the way for forcible returns to Turkey. Paolo Biondi, a refugee law expert, recently shared a twitter thread titled “Why the Greek Council of State decision won’t pave way for forcible returns to Turkey”. He thinks that the Council of State decision is politically charged, as the court acts on behalf of the entire EU. He also underlined that the court decided not to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU only by a narrow majority of 13 votes to 12 despite a clear legal obligation to do so.

Biondi refers also to the unstable political atmosphere in post-coup-attempt Turkey where there is a significant risk of chain refoulement to Syria. He argues that the Greek authorities, before taking any decision on returns to Turkey, should conduct a proprio motu assessment for each case of the risks of violation of Article 4 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in Turkey or further down the chain of possible transfers to other countries.


Everyone Asks Now: Is Turkey a Safe-Third Country?

Biondi’s argument is based on the premise that “Turkey is not a safe third country”. That’s why the EU cannot expect that returnees will have adequate protection. Returning people to Turkey implies a significant risk of violation of EU and international law.  We will soon see which side is right.