However, it welcomes the EU’s financial contribution to support Turkey and the refugee communities in Turkey, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said at a daily news briefing here.
“UNHCR stressed that Turkey currently 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, it still struggles to provide for all the basic needs of the swelling Syrian population,” Dujarric said.
According to media reports, the EU and Turkey on Monday agreed on a provisional deal that would send all individuals arriving in Greece from Turkey back to Turkey.
On Monday, Turkey offered to take back all refugees and migrants who cross into Europe from its soil in return for more money, faster EU membership talks and quicker visa-free travel for Turks, reports said.
EU leaders accepted the offer in principle, with Donald Tusk, the European Council president, saying the deal was a “breakthough” that sent “a very clear message that the days of irregular migration are over.”
The EU had not even fulfilled its agreement last September to relocate 66,000 refugees from Greece, redistributing only 600 to date within the 28-nation bloc, the reports said.
Also on Tuesday, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reiterated that in the implementation of such decisions, the fundamental humanitarian principle of “do no harm” must guide authorities across Europe, the Balkans and Turkey at every step when it comes to caring refugees and migrant children.
“It added that the current dire situation unfolding on the borders of Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia remains unacceptable for children who are now in the majority of those on the Idomeni border in northern Greece,” the spokesman said.
“UNHCR 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 UN 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 March 17, 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 March 30, will be a good opportunity to put the spotlight on this important aspect of responsibility sharing, the statement said. Enditem