The safe third country principle and the EU/Turkey deal: To what extent is the current application of the safe third country concept under EU law in compliance with international human rights law?

Research output: Working paper / PreprintWorking paper


In response to the recent so-called ‘’refugee-crisis’’ the EU has tried to intensify its cooperation with Turkey, in order to try and limit the number of migrants gaining access to Union territory. This cooperation has most prominently been given shape through the EU-Turkey statement, commonly referred to as the EU-Turkey deal. This deal allows EU Member States to return all irregular migrants – including refugees – which have entered Greece from Turkey after the 20th of March 2016 to Turkey. The EU argues that this is permitted because in its eyes Turkey can be considered as a ‘safe’ country for all persons returned to it. This mechanism of the deal functions on the basis of a legal notion known as the ‘’Safe Third Country’’ (STC) concept. With the purpose of providing more clarity on the legal application of this concept, in this thesis it is investigated how the concept is interpreted under both international human rights law and European Asylum law and what requirements these areas of the law establish for its application. This must be done in order to find out to what extend the application of the STC concept by the EU – with a particular focus on the EU-Turkey deal - complies with international human rights law.

In this thesis it will be shown that both international human rights law and European Asylum law actually set very similar requirements for the legal application of the STC concept. Both areas of law demand that the person returned is offered the opportunity to apply for international protection in the state that he/she is being returned to and that he/she is awarded with the protection of the principle of non-refoulement and the other protections contained in the Refugee Convention, the Protocol and relevant human rights documents. After establishing this, it will be shown that while in theory the European rules on the application of the STC concept are generally in compliance with international human rights law, things are rather different for the practical application of the concept. Based on a case study of returns of migrants to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal it will be concluded that the practical application of the STC concept in the EU is at present not in accordance with the requirements set by international human rights law nor with those set by European Asylum law.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationMaastricht
PublisherMaastricht University
Number of pages76
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019

Publication series

SeriesMCEL Master Working Paper

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