The EU-Turkey refugee deal is under severe criticism by independent humanitarian organisation Refugees International (RI). The deal, put into effect in 2016, was devised as a means to stop refugees crossing the Aegean Sea, after a million asylum seekers chose this way to access Europe from Turkey, through Greece. Under the arrangement, Turkey has agreed to have refugees sent back from Greece, despite not having adequate arrangements or provisions for their settlement, leaving them deprived of basic rights, housing, education, and employment. Greece, on the other hand, has an asylum procedure in place, but most of the refugees arriving on the islands do not have access to it and are not allowed to leave for the mainland.

According to the RI’s report, this means that thousands of asylum seekers are currently trapped on Greece’s islands in terrible conditions, deprived of medical care and basic facilities. As a result, a large part of this suffering population is in fragile health, both physically and mentally. It is telling that the report, based on field accounts of the RI’s workers in Lesvos, Chios and Samos, made as recently as a month a go, bears the title ‘Like a Prison: Asylum Seekers Confined to the Greek Islands’.

In the report, RI calls for the suspension of the EU-Turkey deal and suggests that Greece should not only put an end to its containment policy on the Greek islands in light of the unacceptable conditions faced by asylum-seekers, but also refrain from returning asylum-seekers to Turkey until the country can ensure that they will be accorded standards of treatment commensurate with the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention, and its 1967 Protocol.

“Greece’s policy of containing people on its Aegean islands is having devastating effects on people’s physical and mental health,” said Izza Leghtas, RI’s Senior Advocate for Europe, presenting the report’s findings.

“Because far fewer people are arriving along this route than in 2015, the EU and Greece are presenting the EU-Turkey agreement as a success. The reality is that thousands of people, many of them traumatised from war or persecution, are trapped and unable to get the help they need.”