The United Nations has warned that a new European Union plan to return illegal arrivals from Turkey would breach international law.
Under the joint European-Turkish plan, all migrants who attempt to enter Greece illegally will be sent back to Turkey. In exchange, for every returnee, Europe undertakes to resettle, under existing commitments and subject to the agreed process, one Syrian refugee based in Turkey.
The UN’s refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that sending refugees back would be a clear violation of their right to protection under international and European law.
“An agreement that would be tantamount to a blanket return of any foreigners to a third country is not consistent with European law, is not consistent with international law,” Europe’s regional director of the UNHCR, Vincent Cochetel, said.
The plan is based on a Turkish undertaking to take back refugees and migrants in exchange for money and fast-tracking of EU membership talks and visa-free travel for Turks. The plan will be discussed again at EU council meetings on the March 17 and 18.
Mr Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said the deal sent “a very clear message that the days of irregular migration are over”.
More than a million people have entered the EU illegally within the past year, mainly Syrians fleeing from Turkey to Greece. A further 2.7 million Syrian refugees remain in Turkey. – Ashleigh Cant
Screengrab shows a camp for Syrian refugees; image from BBC World News.