Turkey has promised to protect all asylum-seekers sent back from Europe, not just Syrians, the European Union said on Tuesday, hoping to ease concerns about the main EU strategy to stem the migrant flow into Greece.
The number of people reaching Greek shores from Turkey has dropped since late March, when a deal between Turkey and the European Union took effect allowing them to be returned.
But relatively few, just over 340, have been sent back so far, partly because Turkey, which applies the Geneva Convention on refugees only to Europeans, offers limited protection to Syrians and no legal guarantees for other nationalities.
Brussels had said Ankara must change that to allow the EU to scale up the returns without the risk of violating international humanitarian laws. That includes a ban refoulement, or sending people back to where their safety is at risk.
EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the European Commission had received written assurances “that non-Syrians in need of international protection returned from Greece to Turkey will be able to apply and receive that protection and will be protected from refoulement.”
Greek authorities should now take that into account when deciding who to send back, Schinas told a daily news briefing.
A Turkish official in Ankara said: “We have given the EU an assurance that non-Syrians will have the same rights when they come back as they had when they were leaving Turkey. The EU insisted on this.”
Neither Turkey nor the Commission said what exact assurances Turkey had offered.
In return for taking back all those arriving in Greece and ensuring fewer depart from Turkey in the first place, Ankara was promised more EU funding, swifter visa-free travel to Europe for its citizens and revived EU accession talks.
Turkey has complained that the EU has been too slow in disbursing an agreed 3 billion euros to improve conditions for some 2.7 million Syrian refugees living on its soil.
Some 187 million euros have been allocated so far but EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici said in Ankara on Tuesday the bloc would deliver: “We can pull that (funding) together ... it will be ready,” he told Reuters.
The European Commission also reiterated it aimed to open another section - on budget and finance - in Turkey's long-stalled EU accession talks by the end of June.