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Is the Netherlands liable for refugee suffering on Greek islands?

Three NGOs are suing the Dutch state for actively contributing to the suffering of refugees on Greek islands. In Dutch newspaper ‘Trouw’, the organisations say that the suffering was caused by the Netherlands agreeing to the EU-Turkey deal.

A laboratory for legal action by NGOs

Joris Larik, Assistant Professor in European and international law, says in Trouw that ‘it’s hard to tell whether they could win this case’. Interest organisations in the Netherlands are increasingly finding their way to the courts. In February, for example, Oxfam Novib, peace organisation Pax and The Rights Forum, managed to prevent the Netherlands from suppling F-35 parts to Israel. Larik calls the Netherlands ‘a kind of laboratory for legal action by NGOs’. He says that within Europe, the Netherlands is the place to launch such court proceedings. 

What is the EU-Turkey deal?

In 2016, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement that aimed to reduce the flow of refugees entering Europe. The agreement involved Turkey taking measures so that refugees arriving in Greece (Europe) were sent back to Turkey (outside of Europe). In exchange, the EU provided billions of euros to support the refugees staying in Turkey, and Turkish citizens would be allowed to travel to Europe without requiring a visa.

Abundant evidence of threat to human rights

Trouw reports that the claimants in the court proceedings – Amnesty International, Defence for Children and the Bare Refugee Foundation – believe that at the time of the EU-Turkey deal, there was already ‘abundant evidence that human rights would be at risk’. The refugees were staying in unsafe camps with very poor living conditions and camps were unable to properly protect vulnerable people and children. In short, the organisations believe that the Netherlands should have known better.

More information

Read the full Trouw article (in Dutch) (€)

Photo: Lars Dunker through Unsplash

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