The head of the UN refugee agency said yesterday (21 March) that he will be scrutinizing the rollout of a controversial EU-Turkey deal to stem migrant flows for possible breaches of international law.
“The devil of that deal will be in the details of how it is implemented and we need to see what happens in the next few days,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said during a visit to Ottawa.
Under a key clause in the landmark agreement, in exchange for Turkey taking back all migrants arriving in Greece, the EU will resettle one Syrian refugee for every Syrian readmitted on Turkish soil.
The aim is to reduce the incentive for migrants to make the perilous trip from Turkey to the Greek islands.
Around 4,000 people, including women and children, have drowned crossing the Aegean Sea in flimsy boats, including 400 this year alone.
The agreement has come under fire from rights groups and thousands of anti-racism demonstrators across the European continent protested against the accord on Saturday (19 March).
Grandi said it must “be done in a manner that safeguards some fundamental (refugee) protection principles,” including not sending anyone back to their country of origin against their will, and in this specific instance determining “whether anybody has reason for fearing being sent back to Turkey.”
He also said refugees should not be held in detention, and all have a right to make an asylum bid.
The UNHCR has briefed the European Union and Turkey about their obligations.
“The guarantees that we have laid out are the ones that would make it or not make it consistent with international and European law,” said Grandi, who was appointed UNHCR chief in January.
More than 1,600 migrants have landed in Greece since the EU-Turkey deal on curbing the influx took effect, officials said Monday, as Greek authorities scramble to implement complex new rules.