Brussels, Athens-The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, expressed his deep concern about the EU-Turkey deal, saying “As a first reaction, I am deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law.”
EU leaders have hailed the one-for-one plan as a breakthrough that would deter Syrians from making dangerous journeys across the Aegean Sea.
The agreement could see Turkey and the EU cooperate to end the flow of irregular refugees to Greek islands and start resettling Syrian refugees directly from Turkey to the EU.
Turkey’s Prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, outlined proposals to resettle one Syrian refugee in Europe for every Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands at Brussels’ Summit on Monday.
He told European leaders that Turkey wanted more for its citizens in exchange of helping the EU. He called for visa liberalization for 75 million Turks by 1 June, an advance of the October deadline proposed last year, as well as restarting Turkey’s long-stalled EU accession talks.
In addition, Davutoğlu promised to tackle people smuggling, saying: “With these new proposals, we aim to rescue refugees, discourage those who misuse and exploit their situation and find a new era in Turkey-EU relations.”
“Turkey is ready to work with the EU, and Turkey is ready to be a member of the EU as well,” Davutoglu said before the summit, adding that Turkey is a temporary home to an estimated 2.75 million refugees, many from the conflict in Syria.
Filippo Grandi, who was speaking to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on the occasion of International Women’s Day, stressed that legal safeguards would need
to govern any mechanism under which responsibility would be transferred for assessing an asylum claim.
Grandi added that asylum seekers should only be returned to other states if there was a guarantee that they would not then be sent back to the place they had fled. The country of return also had to ensure asylum seekers had access to work, healthcare, education and social assistance, he said.
Following the summit, the European Union chief, Donald Tusk, said: “the days of irregular migration to Europe are over.”
Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said the leaders had made a “breakthrough” that sent “a very clear message that the days of irregular migration to Europe are over.”
Turkey is due to receive $3.3bn until the end of 2018 to cover the costs of dealing with refugees, but it reportedly asked for double the amount during Monday’s talks, in return for checking the flow of refugees across the Aegean Sea. The announcement came at the end of a long day of meetings in Brussels.
Human rights groups say returning asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey would be illegal, but the EU is desperate to reduce the flow of migrants and refugees coming to Europe.