The United Nations refugee agency today expressed a concern about any European response to the migrant crisis that involves the blanket return of all individuals from one country to another without sufficiently spelling out refugee protection safeguards under international law.
According to media reports, the European Union and Turkey yesterday agreed on a provisional deal that would involve people being sent back to Turkey.
“UNHCR [The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees] has taken note of the statement of the EU Heads of State and Government of Turkey last night, and we are concerned with some aspects of the proposal,” the refugee agency said in a statement.
Although UNHCR is not a party to it nor privy to all the details and modalities of implementation, it believes that 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 recognized, enjoy asylum in accordance with accepted international standards, with full and effective access to education, work, health care and, as necessary, social assistance.
Legal safeguards would need to govern any mechanism under which responsibility would be transferred for assessing an asylum claim, the agency argues. 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.
Details of all these safeguards should be clarified before the EU Council's next meeting on 17 March, the statement said.
On the resettlement point, UNHCR welcomed 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.
“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 statement said.
The high-level meeting on global responsibility-sharing through legal pathways for admission of Syrian refugees, to take place in Geneva on 30 March, will be a good opportunity to put the spotlight on this important aspect of responsibility sharing, the statement said.
Turkey hosts close to 3 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.