The UN High Commission for Refugees has criticised some aspects of the March 7 EU- Turkey deal on the migrant crisis, especially the blanket return of individuals from one country to another.
European Union leaders said on March 8 that they had reached a possible deal with Ankara to return thousands of migrants to Turkey, and that they are confident a full agreement can be reached at a summit next week, the Voice of America reported.
Speaking at a media conference on March 8, UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said, “we are concerned with some aspects of the proposal”.
Turkey hosts close to three million refugees and has made enormous contributions for years and just recently adopted a work regulation for Syrian refugees, but, in light of the enormity of the task, still struggles to provide for all the basic needs of the swelling Syrian population, he said.
“We welcome the EU’s financial contribution to support Turkey and the refugee communities in Turkey,” Spindler said.
UNHCR said that it was fully informed of all the details of how the EU – Turkey deal would be implemented.
“On the face of what appears to have been agreed, we are, however, concerned about any arrangement that involves the blanket return of all individuals from one country to another without sufficiently spelt out refugee protection safeguards in keeping with international obligations,” Spindler said.
An asylum-seeker should only be returned to a third state, if responsibility for assessing the particular asylum application in substance is assumed by the third country; the asylum-seeker will be protected from refoulement; the individual will be able to seek and, if recognised, enjoy asylum in accordance with accepted international standards, and have full and effective access to education, work, health care and, as necessary, social assistance, the UNHRC said.
Legal safeguards would need to govern any mechanism under which responsibility would be transferred for assessing an asylum claim. Pre-departure screening would also need to be in place to identify heightened risk categories that may not be appropriate for return even if the above conditions are met, the agency said.
The UNHCR called for clarity of the details of these safeguards before the European Council meeting scheduled for March 17.
“On the resettlement point, we welcome of course any initiative that promotes regular pathways of admission for refugees in significant numbers from all neighbouring countries in the region – not just Turkey and not just Syrian refugees – to third countries,” Spindler said.
However, he noted, Europe’s resettlement commitments remain very low compared to the needs (that is, 20 000 places within two years on a voluntary basis).
“Easing family reunification is another important avenue to be pursued, and we hope that individuals returned to Turkey who have specific resettlement needs, such as family reunification, would be considered for the resettlement/admission programme to the EU,” the UNHCR spokesperson said.
The high-level meeting on global responsibility-sharing through legal pathways for admission of Syrian refugees, to take place in Geneva on March 30 “will be a good opportunity to put the spotlight on this important aspect of responsibility sharing and we hope for concrete pledges,” Spindler said.
(Archive photo: UNHCR/L Pavicevic)