Sunday

23rd Sep 2018

UN outlines legal concerns on EU-Turkey deal

  • Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, last week spoke out against possible bulk returns under the EU-Turkey plan (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU insists any deal with Turkey on returning migrants will be legally sound.

But issues remain over how people kicked out of Greece and returned to Turkey may be treated if Ankara refuses to fully apply the 1951 Refugee Convention.

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The issue has raised concerns from the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR), which, in a four-page note on the deal, says the blanket return of rejected migrants "without key protection safeguards in place, would be at variance with international and European standards".

The UNHCR document, dated 10 March, comes ahead of a summit in Brussels this week between EU leaders and Turkey's prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

European Council president Donald Tusk in Ankara on Tuesday (15 March) said the deal hinges on making it stand up to EU and international law.

"This is not an easy task, and we have to get it right," he said.

Sharing burden, not shifting

The European Commission on Tuesday made similar comments, noting that it has been working with the UNHCR on how to make it work in practice.

"The commission has made a legal analysis of what is possible in order make the agreed deal in principle operational," a commission spokesperson told reporters.

The EU plan is to arrange speedy returns to Turkey from Greece and to stop irregular migrants from using smugglers to reach Greece via Turkey. Almost 800,000 made the trip last year.

But the UNHCR paper said that each person was entitled to an individual assessment in Greece before being returned to Turkey.

Greece can only also issue the return if key legal safeguards are guaranteed in Turkey.

The UNHCR also said that any deal that involves the transfer of asylum seekers from one state to another should be "aimed at enhancing the sharing, rather the shifting, of burdens and responsibilities".

With 45,000 people now stuck in Greece and some 14,000 living in dire conditions at the Idomeni camp near the Macedonia border, the sense of "sharing" among EU states appears to be lacking.

EU states had agreed last year to relocate tens of thousands from Greece but have so far only managed just a few hundred.

Financing issues

On Tuesday (15 March) thousands of migrants were forced back into Greece from Macedonia, with Austria now promising to help Skopje guard the border by offering equipment, according to German newspaper Die Welt.

"The defence ministry is currently checking whether we can help with technical gear, such as night vision goggles," Austria's defence minister Hans Peter Doskozi told the daily.

The UN's refugee chief Filippo Grandi last week also said asylum seekers returned to Turkey should have full access to education, work, healthcare and social assistance.

Turkey hosts some 2.7 million Syrian refugees. Roughly 10 percent live in 23 camps, with the rest spread out across the country. An additional 121,000 Iraqis and almost 98,000 Afghan refugees are also in Turkey.

The EU is supposed to help finance projects such as education and health for refugees inside Turkey.

But so far less than €100 million out of a promised €3 billion has been earmarked for projects.

The initial roll-out earlier this month is aimed at helping Syrian schoolchildren in Turkey and enrolling others in a UN-backed food voucher programme.

Failed relocation scheme to be used in EU-Turkey plan

In a preparatory document seen by EUobserver, EU Council president Tusk proposes that the EU merge its policy to relocate asylum seekers from Italy and Greece into a broader draft agreement with Turkey to reduce migrant flows.

UN 'deeply concerned' by EU-Turkey plan

The UN has spoken out against blanket returns to Turkey after EU leaders earlier Tuesday agreed to a provisional plan to start clearing Greek islands of irregular migrants.

Interview

Refugees and Turkey accession 'are separate issues'

The EU parliament's Turkey rapporteur has said member states are wrong to give Ankara a free pass on human rights for the sake of a refugee deal, amid growing criticism of the draft accord.

EU to offer less than Turkey expected

No new accession chapters to be opened and no cast-iron promise of extra money on top of an earlier €3 billion, according to draft summit conclusions seen by EUobserver.

EU-Turkey deal gets reality check

The EU-Turkey deal that came into force on Sunday has not deterred migrants crossing the Aegean sea on its first day. But it raises many questions as Greek and Turkish legal frameworks still need to be set up.

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