THE controversial European Union deal to deport large numbers of refugees from Greece back to Turkey has been condemned as “morally reprehensible” and possibly illegal by Christian Aid.
The EU agreed to resettle one Syrian from Turkish camps for every Syrian sent back to the country, which is hosting nearly three million people. The first two boats carrying 131 people from Lesbos, and a third carrying 66 from Chios, arrived at the Turkish port of Dikili, on Monday.
Christian Aid, which provides relief to refugees on the Greek islands of Kos, Chios, and Samos, has also questioned the capacity of the Greek authorities to “properly and fairly assess” asylum claims before sending individuals back to Turkey.
The charity’s senior EU relations adviser, Jenny Brown, said that the sight of refugees and migrants being deported this week was “deeply disturbing”, and that the fairness of the deal is “highly dubious”.
“One seriously doubts whether due process, in line with international law, is in place,” she said, on Monday. “Rather than implementing this highly dubious deal with Turkey, the EU should instead be focusing on providing safe and legal means for people seeking sanctuary to reach the EU, and, when there, to have their claims fairly assessed.”
EU authorities said, however, that none of those deported had requested asylum in Greece, and all had left voluntarily.
The EU-Turkey deal was struck in March to reduce the incentive for Syrian refugees to make dangerous boat journeys to Greece, and instead stay in Turkish refugee camps for a chance at resettlement in Europe. The Aegean crossing has already claimed 366 lives this year.
Last week, churches and aid agencies, including the Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe, the Conference of European Churches, and ACT Alliance, said that they were “particularly concerned” by the deal. In a joint letter, the group asked EU leaders to adopt a more “humane” response to the European refugee crisis (News, 24 March).
All “irregular migrants” arriving in Greece through Turkey after 20 March face deportation under the agreement. The number of refugees resettled in the EU from Turkey will be capped at 72,000.
On Monday, the first 43 Syrian asylum-seekers were flown to Germany and Finland, and on Tuesday, further refugees arrived in the Netherlands.
The EU has also promised to speed up talks on Ankara’s bid to join the 28-nation bloc, to double refugee aid to €6 billion, and give visa-free travel to Turks in Europe’s Schengen passport-free zone by June.
Hundreds continue to arrive in Greece, however, despite increased border closures, and more than 150,000 have entered the country since the beginning of the year. More than 14,000 people are thought to be trapped on the Greece-Macedonia border where the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR described the conditions as “unliveable”.