Seven years ago, the European Union and Turkey signed a refugee deal where Turkey agreed to prevent asylum seekers from entering Europe, and in return, the EU promised to pay Turkey billions of euros. The Netherlands, which held the presidency of the EU Council at the time of the agreement, is responsible for the subsequent human rights violations that occurred in Greek refugee camps, according to Amnesty International, Dutch peace organization PAX, Defence for Children, and the Dutch aid organization Boat Refugee Foundation.
As the EU Council president, the Netherlands played a significant role in creating and implementing the agreement. The organizations argue that the consequences of the agreement were foreseeable, and therefore hold the Netherlands accountable for the human rights violations in Greece.
"Civil society warned our government that the agreement between the EU and Turkey would lead to serious human rights violations. Amnesty told the government in 2016 that this was a historic mistake," says Dagmar Oudshoorn, head of Amnesty International's Dutch branch.
Under the agreement, Greece was able to unofficially return people who arrived on its islands to Turkey. The agreement was made even though it was known that Turkey is not a safe country and cannot provide humane conditions for refugees.
Under the agreement, European countries committed to taking in one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every Syrian returned from Greek islands. However, the relocation has not worked in practice.
Thousands of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants have been stuck in appalling conditions on Greek islands since 2016. Asylum procedures in Greece are unreasonably long, and people are exposed to physical and sexual violence. The overloaded camps lack adequate food, and the buildings are unsafe, with no medical or sanitation facilities.
The conditions in the camps violate fundamental human rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Refugee Convention, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and EU asylum directives.
In 2017, the EU Court of Justice ruled that the EU did not sign the agreement with Turkey, but individual member states did. Therefore, the EU cannot be held responsible for the agreement.
However, the Netherlands contributed to the situation on the Greek islands by signing the agreement with Turkey. The Netherlands also kept the agreement when it was clear that it was not working. It is unacceptable to make refugee deals in Europe without a thorough assessment of their human rights impact. Therefore, the organizations hold the Netherlands responsible for the human rights violations in Greek refugee camps. If the Netherlands does not accept responsibility, the organizations will initiate legal action against the government.
"The horrific consequences of the agreement are present every day in our clinic on Lesbos. There are so many emergencies and such a need for psychological support that our team can hardly cope. Such agreements should never be made again," says Esther Vonk, director of the Boat Refugee Foundation.