A woman hugs a baby wrapped in an emergency blanket as refugees and migrants arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey. (AFP)
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GENEVA (UN) – The United Nations refugee agency has stressed the importance of ensuring safeguards in carrying out the new agreement between the European Union (EU) and Turkey on the situation of refugees and migrants making their way to Europe.
According to a statement issued by the EU, the sides agreed that all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands will be returned to Turkey, starting from 20 March, and for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU.
“Importantly, it is explicit that any modalities of implementation of the agreement will respect international and European law,” said the Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a press release.
In UNHCR’s understanding, in light of relevant jurisprudence, this means that people seeking international protection will have an individual interview on whether their claim can be assessed in Greece, and the right to appeal before he or she is sent back to Turkey. This would also entail that once returned, people in need of international protection will be given the chance to seek and effectively access protection in Turkey.
“Ultimately, the response must be about addressing the compelling needs of individuals fleeing war and persecution,” UNHCR said. “Refugees need protection, not rejection.”
Firstly, Greece’s reception conditions and its systems for assessing asylum claims and dealing with people accepted as refugees must be rapidly strengthened. This will be an enormous challenge that needs to be urgently addressed, stressed the agency.
Secondly, people being returned to Turkey and needing international protection must have a fair and proper determination of their claims within a reasonable time. Assurances against refoulement, or forced return, must be in place. Reception and other arrangements need to be readied in Turkey before anyone is returned from Greece.
People determined to be needing international protection should be able to enjoy asylum, without discrimination, in accordance with accepted international standards, including effective access to work, health care, education for children, and, as necessary, social assistance.
Thirdly, while UNHCR has noted the commitment in this agreement to increase resettlement opportunities for Syrian refugees out of Turkey, it is crucial that such commitments are meaningful and predictable. Increased EU resettlement from Turkey should not be at the expense of the resettlement of other refugee populations around the world who also have great needs – especially in today’s context of record forced displacement worldwide.