"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," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told the
European Parliament in Strasbourg.
He was speaking hours after the 28 EU leaders sketched an accord
with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Brussels that would
grant Ankara more money to keep refugees in Turkey, faster visa-free
travel for Turks and a speeding up of Ankara's long-stalled
Rights group Amnesty International called the proposed mass return
of migrants a "death blow to the right to seek asylum". Relief
charity Doctors without Borders said it was cynical and inhumane.
But Davutoglu insisted the preliminary deal would not stop Syrian
refugees legitimately seeking shelter in Europe.
"The aim here is to discourage irregular migration and ... to
recognize those Syrians in our camps who the EU will accept - though
we will not force anyone to go against their will - on legal
routes," he said at a meeting with his Greek counterpart in the
Turkish coastal city of Izmir.
The executive European Commission also said the deal to put an end
to a mass influx of more than a million people fleeing war and
poverty in the Middle East and beyond, due to be finalised next
week, was legally sound.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who pushed for the accord to
assuage anxious voters before regional elections on Sunday, said
things were finally moving in the right direction after nearly a
million Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others flooded into Germany
alone last year.
Denying charges by German critics that Turkey was using refugees to
blackmail Europe, she told a campaign event that Ankara had taken in
2.7 million Syrian refugees. "That's why it's only fair of us to ask
first: can we give Turkey a little bit of help in shouldering this
task?" Merkel said.
The 28 EU leaders were taken by surprise by the bold, last minute
Turkish initiative, which went beyond previous plans for more
limited cooperation. Unable to sign up to firm commitments
immediately, they agreed to wrap up a deal at their next summit on
March 17-18 but several points remain sensitive.
Migrants marooned in squalor on Greece's frontier with Macedonia by
the closure of borders further north vowed to keep trying to cross
Europe to wealthy Germany, while Syrian refugees in Turkey said they
too would not be deterred by the lockdown.
"We will stay here even if we all die," said Kadriya Jasem, a
25-year-old from Aleppo in Syria, one of 13,000 people living in a
makeshift camp in Idomeni on the Greek side of the border with
Under the tentative deal, the EU would admit one refugee directly
from Turkey for each Syrian it took back from the Greek Aegean
islands, and those who attempted the perilous sea route would be
returned and go to the back of the queue.
The aim is to persuade Syrians and others that they have better
prospects if they stay in Turkey, with increased EU funding for
housing, schools and subsistence.
EU officials questioned how the one-for-one scheme would work in
practice, with several EU countries objecting to any quota system
for resettling refugees.
It might also be overwhelmed if the volume of migrants crossing the
Aegean remains high despite increased NATO-backed sea patrols by
Greece and Turkey.
Proclaiming their determination to work together to stop illegal
migration, Davutoglu and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras signed
an amendment to their readmission agreement to make returning third
country nationals easier.
[to top of second column]
Davutoglu said the EU would cover the cost of readmission of illegal
migrants by Turkey. He also said Ankara would rush through laws
required by the EU to implement visa-free travel for Turks, calling
it an "important victory for our citizens".
Brussels sought to dismiss concerns over the legality of the
proposed re-admission arrangements.
"You can be sure that the agreement that will come at the end of it
will comply with both European and international law," Commission
spokesman Alexander Winterstein told a news briefing.
Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker cited EU asylum procedure rules
to argue that member states were entitled to refuse to consider a
claim from a person who arrives from a safe third country.
Some Commission officials have private misgivings both about
Turkey's "safe" status, given its human rights record, and the
compatibility of mass returns with asylum seekers' right to an
individual assessment of their claim, an EU source said.
It was unclear whether an eventual deal could be challenged in
European or international courts. Any case might take years to reach
a ruling, with EU doors closed in the meantime.
Migration experts said refugees would probably try other routes if
Turkey's closure worked. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have begun
tightening identity controls and erecting fences on their eastern
borders, fearing the Baltic region will become a new entry point for
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, speaking in the
European Parliament, welcomed the preliminary deal and said: "We
need now to ensure a quick implementation of the voluntary
humanitarian scheme from Turkey and to implement projects that will
further improve the situation of the Syrians in Turkey."
But many lawmakers criticized a "fortress Europe" approach, saying
the EU must ensure people needing international protection are able
to claim asylum.
"In the name of 'realpolitik', member states seemed ready to trample
on their principles to conclude a shameful bargain with Turkey," the
French Socialist group said.
Critics denounced a cascade of border closures down the main Western
Balkan migration route that has left 33,000 people stranded in
Greece, causing a humanitarian catastrophe.
Slovenia announced on Tuesday it would limit entry for migrants from
midnight, allowing in only those who planned to seek asylum in the
country or were coming for humanitarian reasons.
In reaction, Serbia said it would harmonize its policies with those
of EU member states, adding that Slovenia's decision meant "the
Balkan route for migrants is being closed".
(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels, Lefteris
Papadimas in Idomeni, Greece, Michele Kambas in Nicosia, Dasha
Afanasieva and Melih Aslan in Izmir; Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing
by Giles Elgood and David Stamp)
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