UNHCR statement on the situation at the Turkey-EU border

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is appealing for calm and an easing of tensions on Turkey’s borders with the European Union in light of the present increased movements of people there – including refugees and asylum-seekers.

Refugees from Afghanistan arrive at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesvos, after crossing on a dinghy the Aegean sea from Turkey.
© Ritzau Scanpix

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is appealing for calm and an easing of tensions on Turkey’s borders with the European Union in light of the present increased movements of people there – including refugees and asylum-seekers.

UNHCR is monitoring developments in Turkey and in Greece and is offering its support. As in all such situations it is important that the authorities refrain from any measures that might increase the suffering of vulnerable people.

All States have a right to control their borders and manage irregular movements, but at the same time should refrain from the use of excessive or disproportionate force and maintain systems for handling asylum requests in an orderly manner.

Neither the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees nor EU refugee law provides any legal basis for the suspension of the reception of asylum applications. Article 78(3) of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) has been evoked by the Greek Government in this regard, however this provision allows for provisional measures to be adopted by the Council, on a proposal from the Commission and in consultation with the European Parliament, in the event that one or more Member States are confronted by an emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of third country nationals while it cannot suspend the internationally recognized right to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulement that are also emphasized in EU law. Persons entering irregularly on the territory of a State should also not be punished if they present themselves without delay to the authorities to seek asylum.

On the borders between Turkey and the EU, UNHCR is working with national partners, Turkish Red Crescent, IOM and Unicef, assessing the situation and providing humanitarian assistance where needed. Groups there have included Syrians, Afghans, Iranians, Sudanese and other nationalities – including women, children and families, arriving in precarious conditions.

In Greece, UNHCR teams reported the arrival of some 1,200 people on 1 March and 2 March morning on the East Aegean islands (Lesvos, Chios, Samos) – higher than the recent daily rate. UNHCR has replenished stocks of dry food and blankets to support new arrivals and has confirmed that other actors have additional items in stock.

Greece, and other States on the EU external border, should not be left alone. Continued European resources, capacity and solidarity are needed to boost Greece’s response.

At the same time, international support to Turkey, which already hosts millions of refugees, as well as other countries neighbouring Syria, must be sustained and stepped up.

While the situation on the Turkey’s western borders and Greece and movement of several thousand people is of concern, the humanitarian disaster unfolding in the northwest Syria and massive humanitarian needs in Idlib for some 950,000 of internally displaced people continues to require urgent action.
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