Deportations of refugees and migrants to Turkey and the detention of asylum-seekers on Greek islands must stop, three aid groups said on Friday, citing fears for human rights raised by an EU-Turkey deal to curb an influx of people into Europe.
Determined to turn the tables on Europe’s acute migration crisis, Brussels and Berlin have voiced satisfaction with the first results of the scheme under which Turkey is to take back all people arriving undocumented on Greek islands from its soil.
The EU has so far returned 325 people, including two Syrians, and resettled 79 Syrians directly from Turkey since the disputed accord was enforced early in April. Ankara expects more deportations of Syrians soon.
"Refugees could be returned to Turkey without having had a proper asylum hearing or without receiving the necessary information about their legal rights," international charity Oxfam, humanitarian NGO Norwegian Refugee Council and Greek group Solidarity Now warned in a joint statement.
Those arriving in Greece are often kept in detention to prevent them trekking north towards wealthier EU states. More than 1.1 million migrants reached the EU last year, most of them following an overland path from Greece to Germany.
"The increasing use of detention as a restriction of the freedom of movement of asylum-seekers on the grounds of their irregular entry is a major concern," they aid groups said.
From the onset, the EU-Turkey agreement has been fiercely criticised by United Nations refugee and human rights agencies, as well as rights groups, as immoral and a violation of international humanitarian law against blanket returns.
Legal concerns also zero in on the detention of asylum-seekers, serious shortcomings in asylum procedures amid chaos on the ground, and various risks faced by those returned to Turkey.
To avoid breaching the law, the EU has started with less contested returns of economic migrants but Greece has now also issued initial asylum decisions under the deal, declaring 10 Syrians inadmissible so far, according to people familiar with a daily internal progress report by the EU’s executive arm.
Brussels is keen to keep the returns going as it believes they are deterring more people from risking the short but perilous trip across the Aegean Sea to Greece.
Arrivals from Turkey to Greece have diminished markedly since the deal was enacted.
But for the deportation policy to cover more people, Turkey must still introduce legal protections for non-Syrians who would be sent back, an issue the head of the European Commission will raise with the Turkish prime minister on Apr. 19.
Senior EU officials and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will next week visit the Turkish city of Gaziantep near the border with Syria, where five years of civil war, coupled with other crises in the Middle East, have unleashed a tide of migration towards Europe. [Reuters]