Ombudsman demands transparency on human rights abuses in EU-Turkey deal

The EU ombudsman demanded the European Commission make more information public about the human rights situation of migrants sent from Greece to Turkey under an EU agreement. [U.S. Department of state/Flickr]

The European Commission needs to report more on possible human rights abuses resulting from its controversial deal with Turkey to send migrants back there from Greece, the EU institution’s watchdog has warned.

The executive should “deal more explicitly with the human rights implications in its future reports on the agreement” it sealed with Turkey in March 2016, the European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly found.

O’Reilly’s office opened an inquiry into the deal with Turkey last year after a group of Spanish human rights NGOs filed a complaint. The Ombudsman investigates wrongdoing in the EU institutions.

Under the deal, irregular migrants who arrive in Greece by sea are sent back to Turkey. Syrians are flown to Turkey and are guaranteed the right to register for legal protection there. In exchange, the EU agreed to take in one Syrian from Turkish refugee camps for every person sent back there. The Commission also promised to double its aid money to Turkey.

Humanitarian NGOs argued the deal is an irresponsible way for the Commission to refuse taking in more refugees. Amnesty International called the agreement a “historic blow to rights” after it was sealed in March.

Turkey blocks UNHCR access to Syrian refugees

UN refugee agency UNHCR has been kept from visiting asylum seekers after they were deported from Greece to Turkey, according to a leaked letter from the organisation’s Athens office.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR is responsible for monitoring human rights conditions in Turkish refugee camps. A leaked letter from the organisation revealed that its staff have struggled to access those centres and have sparse data about how many Syrians have received legal protection.

A spokeswoman for O’Reilly said she acknowledged that information about the human rights effects of the agreement “is not only in the hands of the European Commission and it’s not always possible to get that information”. But the executive should include a dedicated chapter on human rights in future progress reports on the agreement, she said.

O’Reilly said in a statement that she is “conscious of the extremely difficult challenge and political realities facing both the EU institutions and member states in attempting to deal with the migration crisis”.

The Commission published its last report on the agreement in early December, citing a figure of 748 migrants who had been sent to Turkey from Greece under the agreement since March, including 95 Syrians. The report did not mention UNHCR’s difficulties accessing refugee camps and monitoring anyone sent back to Turkey under the agreement.

Alarm over effectiveness of EU-Turkey refugee deal grows in Brussels

Some seven months after the European Union and Turkey struck an agreement to turn back the tide of Syrians fleeing west, very few refugees have been sent back from Greece, and Brussels is losing its patience as overcrowded camps grow violent.