Leaders of Germany, UK and France in 2016, at the time of signing the deal. EPA/JULIEN WARNAND


NGOs sue Dutch state over 2016 EU migrant deal with Turkey


Three Dutch NGO’s are suing the Government over the European Union-Turkey deal. They want the Netherlands to be held accountable for “years of worsening conditions” on the Greek islands as well as for breaking “Dutch, international, and EU law.”

Amnesty International, the Amsterdam-based Stichting Bootvluchteling (Boat Refugee Foundation) and the Geneva-based Defence for Children say the country is responsible for the deal, as the Netherlands held the EU presidency when the migrant deal with Turkey was signed.

The “EU-Turkey deal” is the term often used to describe the “statement of co-operation” between EU states and the Turkish government, which was signed in March 2016, according to the International Rescue Committee.

It covered three key points: Turkey would take any measures necessary to stop people travelling irregularly from the country to the Greek islands; anyone who arrived on the islands irregularly from Turkey could be returned there; and for every Syrian returned from the islands, EU Member States would accept one Syrian refugee who had waited inside Turkey.

In exchange, Turkey would receive €6 billion to improve the humanitarian situation faced by refugees in the country and Turkish nationals would be granted visa-free travel to Europe.

According to the three NGOs, the agreement makes the Netherlands responsible for resulting human rights violations.

Director of Amnesty International Netherlands Dagmar Oudshoorn said: “As a result of this disastrous deal between EU Member States and Turkey, tens of thousands of asylum seekers were trapped on the Greek islands, in appalling conditions in camps and closed reception centres.

“By striking the deal, EU Member States sought to outsource the protection of refugees to Turkey and thus escape their responsibility under international law,” he said.

“Under the deal, all people, including asylum seekers who arrived on the Greek islands, would be sent back to Turkey, despite clear indications that it would be unsafe for them there.”

In a joint press statement, the three NGOs stated: “It was also known that Greece was poor at providing adequate reception and asylum procedures.”

Esther Vonk, director of Stichting Bootvluchteling, said her agency saw “appalling consequences” on a daily basis, “in the form of indescribable human suffering”. She added that “such deals must never be made again”.

The NGO’s said, despite being fully cognisant of the adverse effects on human rights, the Dutch government at the time “proceeded to sign an agreement that resulted in unforgivable consequences for thousands of individuals, including children”.

Vonck stated: “Eight years after the deal, little has changed for the better. The camps have turned into high-security closed centres with detention-like conditions. On Lesbos, we see daily the dehumanising impact of the lack of medical care, decent shelter and support for asylum seekers and refugees.”

According to the NGOs, it was clear the Dutch acted unlawfully by drafting, approving and implementing the EU-Turkey deal, contributing to the creation of what they called an inhumane situation.

“The Dutch government opposed the transfer of people from the islands to mainland Greece. While doing so could have eased the pressure on the islands,” Oudshoorn said.

In addition to holding the Netherlands accountable for the consequences of the EU-Turkey deal, the NGOs demanded the initiation of a mechanism to prevent human-rights violations.

“We are not taking this to court because we enjoy litigation, but because it is the only remaining recourse,” Vonck added.

“The EU-Turkey deal has had and continues to have a direct impact on the lives of tens of thousands of people, and no one is taking responsibility. We must prevent the EU-Turkey deal from being used as a blueprint for future migration agreements.”

A spokesperson for the Dutch foreign ministry told Brussels Signal that it, together with the justice ministry, “have taken note of the NGOs’ announcement and will study the subpoena carefully”.