A draft European Union plan to send back some migrants to Turkey has legal and moral flaws and could put vulnerable people at risk, the head of Amnesty International said, calling on Europe to take in more people seeking refuge instead.
Under a tentative deal struck last Monday, Turkey agreed to take back illegal migrants who enter Europe from Turkey, in exchange for more funding, an earlier introduction of visa-free travel to Europe for Turks, and a speeding up of Ankara's long-stalled EU membership talks.
"It's flawed, morally and legally," Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty told Reuters in Dubai.
Shetty said in an interview he would meet France's interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, European Council President Donald Tusk and other EU officials this week "to directly express our shock and outrage at what they are coming up with."
Leaders will meet again this week at an EU summit as they face Europe's largest migration crisis since World War Two.
"They are saying it does not breach EU law because Turkey is a safe country. By what stretch of the imagination is Turkey a safe country for these people?" Shetty said.
Turkey has said the deal would not stop Syrian refugees legitimately seeking shelter in Europe. Turkey and EU leaders say they want to discourage illegal migrants and stop smugglers.
But the United Nations and rights groups say mass returns without considering individual asylum cases could be illegal. Amnesty says Europe should take in its fair share of the millions seeking refugee and spend more on those who remain in the region.
"Most European countries are signatories to the (U.N.) refugee convention, so they are in direct violation," Shetty said. "The refugee convention is clear, these people fleeing from war and persecution have international protection. So they have to take it case-by-case."
Under the plan, 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 sea route would be returned.
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.
"This idea of swapping human beings – it is just kind of shocking. These people have traveled, risking their lives," Shetty said.
He praised Turkey for taking in the largest number of Syrian refugees but said it could not be considered a safe country, especially in the border area with Syria where some of the large camps are situated.
There have been frequent clashes in the south between Turkish forces and members of the autonomy-seeking Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Turkey has been dealing with the spillover from Syria's five-year war.