After two and a half years of intense work both supporting survivors of pushbacks and shedding light on the countless human rights violations at the hands of the current EU border regime, we have taken the heartbreaking decision to officially dissolve Josoor.
With this statement, we aim to illustrate the reasons that led our team to this decision; the impact it will have; the hopes and concerns we have for the future of this field and region.
Reasons leading to the decision
The decision to end Josoor was dictated by a series of cumulative factors which have placed our team in increasing danger, and ultimately rendered our work almost impossible. These include the deteriorating situation in Turkey, the erosion of the rule of law in Europe, and a consistent lack of funds to adequately support our work and particularly to address the increasing threats laid out below.
Deteriorating situation in Turkey
With the EU continuously failing to hold up its part of the so- called “EU- Turkey Deal”, Turkey`s situation has escalated to an outwardly hostile sentiment towards refugees and by extension, all non-nationals. Large-scale deportation campaigns and changes in the practice of law have deteriorated the situation in Turkey dramatically over the years and particularly the past months.
2019 saw the first wave of large-scale deportation campaigns to Syria with a simultaneous crackdown on civil society supporting refugees and people on the move through Turkey. Many organisations were forced to close down, leave the country or drastically reduce the scope of their work. The few remaining or since established organisations have been working under immense pressure due to an overwhelming demand for support in the country hosting the largest number of refugees worldwide.
2020 saw the escalation over the failure of the “EU-Turkey Deal” and marked the start of a new era of lawlessness on the EU's external borders with Turkey. Tens of thousands of people ended up in the crossfire, stranded on the land border for a month in horrifying conditions. It was in this context that Josoor started operating in Turkey. Initially planned only as a few weeks of emergency support, we soon realised the immense gap in support for refugees in Turkey in general but particularly for pushback survivors, and decided to stay as long as possible with the support we could give. With that decision, we consciously put ourselves in the crossfire too. Our work always meant walking on a thin line between providing support and monitoring the situation on the EU's external borders with Turkey while ensuring the highest possible safety for our team. While two of our ground team members had their residence permits cancelled that year, Josoor also faced the first criminal investigation in Greece (read more in English here or in German here).
2021 saw many more of our ground team members having their residence permits revoked or their extension applications rejected, sometimes with the explanation that they were “a threat to public security”. While those of our team members who possess EU citizenship are safe to work until their residence permits get revoked, the Turkish citizens and refugees among us do not have the same privilege of simply being able to return to a safe country once no longer welcome in Turkey. Meanwhile, the practice of the law changed drastically for the people we support: everyone who arrives back to Turkey after a pushback from Greece or Bulgaria is given a deportation order based on a law that prohibits the illegal crossing of a border for having attempted to leave Turkey. It also has become basically impossible for newly arriving refugees to access the humanitarian visa/temporary protection system in Turkey (where asylum never existed in the first place). This means that almost all of the people we have been supporting are now undocumented, which puts them and our team at high risk in the changing context.
2022 saw a series of new laws and additional changes to the previous practice of the law which ultimately made Josoor’s operations in Turkey impossible. Since February, thousands of districts in the country were “closed to foreigners”, including most of Istanbul where we operate too. In June, it was officially announced that “any foreigner who arrived after 10th February 2022 will have their residence permit rejected”. With all new residence permit applications and most extension applications rejected, we cannot get new team members from outside to Turkey and those living in the country are either at too high of a risk without privileged citizenship or on a residence permit that likely won't get extended. Other new laws simply make our support work system impossible. It is e.g. no longer possible to transport injured or ill pushback survivors to clinics and hospitals because taxi drivers are now legally obliged to ask for appropriate documentation and in case it is not provided, directly drive to the next police station. Throughout time, deportation campaigns have been ongoing, with coordinated large- scale operations occurring across the country every few months, becoming ever more brutal. The atmosphere in the country, completely abandoned by the international community, for decades played badly by Brussels, and now crushed by the economic crisis, makes a severe escalation of the situation seem so imminent that we can no longer carry the responsibility to ensure sufficient safety for our team, particularly those without privileged passports, as well as the people we support.
Erosion of the Rule of Law in Europe and Escalation of the War on Migration
Since the “global war on terror” was launched, a racist securitization narrative has framed forced migration. “Security” (as a vague concept) is prioritised above all else, including the existing law, the supposed values of the European Union, and fundamental Human Rights. European authorities have been criminalising asylum seekers, refugees and people on the move in ways unthinkable for EU citizens for decades. In recent years, that erosion of the rule of law has escalated and spread from the borders far inland, was extended from people on the move to secondary criminalisation of not only human rights defenders but also journalists, lawyers, doctors, and others. In this context, the Greek authorities have launched three criminal investigations into Josoor so far. Despite us never breaking the Greek law, and despite Greece not finding any evidence of us engaging in any kind of illegal activity and therefore never calling us to court to date, the government keeps making immense efforts to find any evidence of our alleged wrongdoing - including the recruitment of asylum seekers as informants and surveilling team member’s devices. This undoubtedly puts our team at risk. But we will still be in a privileged position with the best lawyers, media attention etc. on our side - while everyday countless people are locked up without fair trial, simply for having crossed a border seeking protection as is their legal right.
This development also goes hand in hand with terrifying levels of dehumanisation of people on the move. It has allowed for a constant escalation of the war on migration as well as political weaponization of people seeking protection. Particularly in the Greek-Turkish context, people are stuck in the crossfire of the conflict between the EU and Turkey. By supporting them, we have consciously put ourselves in the same position for as long as the risk of doing so was bearable. But this year, and particularly in the last two months, both sides of this conflict have made clear that there is no mercy at all anymore for people stuck in between. We simply don't have the mandate and funds to deal with this new level of escalation of the border regime responsibly.
We want to make one thing crystal clear: Europe is on the path to destroying nothing less than its democracy - with all the fundamental rights it has ensured, for everyone.
The political developments over the past years have also led to one of the main issues leading to Josoor’s dissolution now: an immense lack of funding. With the exception of one 15.000 € grant in 2020, one 10.000 USD grant and one 8.000 GBP donation in 2021, we have always only funded our operations with small-scale donations and out of our own pockets. It has never been sufficient. Obviously we put a lot of effort into funding applications and fundraising campaigns. But so many funds have withdrawn from the field that the competition of grassroots organisations working on similar projects is immense.
In addition, Turkey has ironically been neglected by most donors. While the country hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide, most funds exclude it from their regional focus since it is considered neither European nor Middle Eastern.
Lastly, the criminalisation Josoor has been subjected to often disqualifies us from grant applications.
We are now in a position where in a couple of months we will have no more funding available even for direct support, for tackling the increased security risks, or for the compensation of team members - most of whom have worked without any pay at all for the longest time.
The majority of people we supported experienced multiple traumatic events, both in their country of origin and while fleeing. In our daily work, we are constantly confronted with the traumatic effects of pushbacks and seeing people in severe crises. The majority of people we support have no choice of staying in Turkey or returning to their countries of origin, nor any other option of leaving Turkey than risking their lives crossing borders and being subjected to pushbacks again. The increasing violence and humiliation exerted during pushbacks and the blatant lack of care structures have (re)traumatising effects. The lack of legal support to bring perpetrators to justice further leaves people with immense feelings of helplessness facing severe injustice. All this leads to chronifications of mental health disorders. By providing basic support to pushback survivors and witnessing border violence, our team was also constantly exposed to traumatic experiences, leading to secondary traumatisation, feelings of helplessness, depression, anxiety and more in this rapidly deteriorating environment. The constant uncertainty of operating in Turkey, our funding situation, the criminalisation by Greece and the overall powerlessness vis-à-vis the EU also led to ever increasing desperation and resignation. When exposed to this distress for extended periods, it turns into severe chronic symptoms of mental health disorders that many of our team members have experienced for a long time. Among those are sleeping disorders, anxiety, stress, guilt, mood shifts and flashbacks as well as a general constant overload of the nervous system due to working on emergencies around the clock.
Impact of the dissolution
We are acutely and painfully aware that ending Josoor will have a huge impact on multiple levels. First and foremost on the people we support and are left in a gap again, but also on the whole field.
Impact on the people Josoor has been supporting
As much as we are giving our all to exit in a responsible way, including referring those reaching out or already in contact with us to other organisations, it is heartbreaking to be witnessing the impact on the people we confront with the news of the dissolution. A single mother of five that we have been supporting for a while and will continue to for several more months, broke down crying, screaming: “What about all the other people coming back now - there is no one for them”.
Providing basic necessities was crucial and will now leave a void. But the main impact Josoor’s operations had for our target group was not that - it was again and again the sentence people said to us after their first contact with Josoor: “We thought humanity is dead, and then we found you.” Josoor was, more than anything, giving hope that there are still some people out there fighting for fundamental human rights.
Impact on the field
Apart from the obvious and severe gap in support for pushback survivors in Turkey (with accommodation, food, clothing, first aid and medical care), the gap Josoor originally filled but will now leave empty again reaches much further. It encompasses the severe lack of monitoring on the events at the EU's external borders with Turkey, the reduction of access for international press to pushback survivors and first hand witnesses as well as analysis of trends in violence on these borders. It further leaves an increasing pressure for the few remaining organisations in Turkey to support even more people that Josoor is now not there to support - while the demand for support is ever increasing. In addition, it leaves our long term friends and allies from the Border Violence Monitoring Network with less hands for joint advocacy, research and legal activities while simultaneously the only partner organisation on this side of one of the most crucial borders, the main entry point into the EU, is no longer there to contribute with monitoring.
As a result of the abovementioned, Josoor officially and permanently stopped all work and will no longer be operating advocacy work, social media and press work.
However, we will still be reachable via firstname.lastname@example.org until the 1st of October when the association will officially be dissolved.
Despite the heartbreak and immense sense of guilt for leaving the frightening gap that will certainly exist once we left, we see Josoor’s dissolution as the only sensible choice we could take at this point. It is crucial to note that this is not only due to Josoor’s specific circumstances. It is more than anything due to the fact that wherever human rights are systematically violated, the governments responsible will do anything in their power to remove all witnesses; and further due to the fact that with the erosion of the rule of law, the work we have been doing can only be done in a secure way by internationally recognised organisations with the mandate and the funding necessary to provide safety for their teams as well as the people subjected to these severe systematic violations.
It would be our biggest wish to see others stepping in and filling the gap we found in 2020 and are now leaving behind again in our third year of operations. But we are also worried that some who might attempt to do so might not be aware of the great risks the work on pushbacks, and particularly in this heavily loaded geo-political context, brings with it. We thus exert a warning to other actors of civil society considering stepping in to be very much aware of the various risks they certainly put themselves in and potentially also the people we all want to support. We would rather advise to focus on pressuring the responsible supranational and global institutions to finally fulfil the duty they have neglected for far too long.
We remain eternally grateful to all of our team members, without whose work and commitment to Josoor’s cause nothing would have been possible. We feel equally thankful to our donors, followers and partners who believed in and supported our work and values throughout the past two and a half years. And finally but no less importantly, all the people whom we have supported through the years;for their trust in us, the lessons they taught us, and for sharing some of the most intimate and traumatising moments of their lives in the hope that it would help shed enough light on the horrifying events taking place on Europe's borders every day to eventually and finally end this brutal, racist regime.
While the legal entity will be dissolved this fall, Josoor’s vision of a world where human rights are applicable to every individual and solidarity transcends all borders will remain - as does each of our team members' dedication to defending human rights for everyone regardless of their origin, appearance, mother tongue or beliefs.