After five years of failed asylum policies, it is time for the EU to do better

Published: 18th March 2021

Five years ago, today, European leaders announced the EU-Turkey deal. Every single day since then, families have been trapped in ‘hotspots’ on the Greek islands, their lives put on hold.  

The EU and Greece created these ‘hotspots’ following the EU-Turkey deal. The EU’s aim to keep asylum-seekers on the Greek islands was to speed up their return to Turkey has resulted in appalling living conditions, violent border control practices and immense delays in asylum procedures. Despite overwhelming evidence of these failed policies, the EU migration pact seeks to copy this approach. 

Today, Oxfam joins eight prominent NGOs calling on EU decision-makers to learn from past failures and to make urgent changes to the EU migration pact and plans to build new reception centres on the Greek Islands. 

Raphael Shilhav, Oxfam EU migration expert said:  

“In the five years since the announcement of the EU-Turkey deal, news from the Greek islands has gone from bad to worse. The EU’s sustained push to block refugees on their path to safety has resulted in a humanitarian crisis with people forced to live in dehumanising conditions, sleeping in unheated tents or containers with limited access to running water and electricity. Women, in particular, tell us they do not feel safe, and that they are exposed to violence, harassment and exploitation.  

European decision-makers need to open their eyes to the reality on the Greek islands and deliver on their obligations to protect human rights. Instead of duplicating failed policies across Europe, they must guarantee the safety and dignity of refugees and other migrants." 

In their joint statement, NGOs demand the EU and its member states to ensure: 

1. No one is detained simply for seeking asylum: the new plans for reception centres on the Greek islands are akin to a detention-like facility. This is not suitable for people seeking safety. The proposal also fails to take into consideration the specific needs of people, particularly women and girls, who arrive to Europe following long and perilous journeys.  

2. Asylum seekers should be able to live in dignified conditions: the EU cannot circumvent its own human rights obligations through the creation of a ‘pre-entry phase’ where EU asylum law does not fully apply. Asylum-seekers entering Europe must be protected by EU and national laws – no exceptions.  

3. Asylum seekers have access to legal assistance and support: the asylum process is complicated and asylum seekers must not be cut off from information and legal aid from NGOs and the UNHCR. The EU’s attempt to speed up asylum procedures through accelerated ‘border procedures’ side-lines these organisations, and infringes on the rights of asylum seekers.  

4. There is effective independent oversight: reception centres cannot be closed to outside scrutiny. The EU and member states must allow for external monitoring and reporting by parliamentarians and NGOs, and put in place clear, independent and effective monitoring and complaint mechanisms. 


Notes to editors

Spokespeople are available for comment in Brussels.  

Read the open letter signed by Oxfam and other organisations. 

Oxfam is hosting an event ‘After five years of an EU refugee response on the Greek islands, what does the future hold?’ with Refugee Rights Europe on 18 March 2021.  

Oxfam has created a timeline in light of the five-year anniversary of the EU-Turkey Deal.  

The EU-Turkey deal was signed on 18 March 2016 – this year marks five years of the EU-Turkey deal. This deal states that “irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands … will be returned to Turkey”. The statement resulted in the creation of a ‘containment’ policy meaning asylum seekers were forced to stay on the Greek islands to speed up their return to Turkey. This resulted in thousands of people stuck on the Greek islands living in dire conditions. The EU migration pact seeks to copy this ‘containment’ approach with one key pillar being the creation of a “pre-entry phase” where EU asylum law does not fully apply. This implementation of this pillar puts fundamental rights at risk. 

Oxfam has been operating in Lesvos since 2015. Since 2019, Oxfam has been working with partners to provide access to legal assistance and social support.  


Contact information

Jade Tenwick | Brussels | | mobile +32 473 56 22 60 

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