UN Refugee Agency Urges Safeguard Compliance Before Any Returns Begin Under EU-Turkey Deal

Newly-arriving refugees wave as the large inflatable boat they are in approaches the shore, near the village of Skala Eressos, on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region of Greece. Photo: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

GENEVA–(ENEWSPF)–1 April 2016 – The United Nations refugee agency today urged parties to the recent EU-Turkey agreement on refugees and migrants to ensure all safeguards are in place before any returns begin.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) “does not object to returns of people without protection needs and who have not asked for asylum, providing that human rights are adhered to,” UNHCR Chief Spokesperson Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva.

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.

Across Greece, which has been compelled to host people because of closed borders elsewhere in Europe, numerous aspects of the systems for receiving and dealing with people who may need international protection are still either not working or absent, she said.

There are currently around 51,000 refugees and migrants in the country, 46,000 on the mainland and 5,000 on the islands. Recent arrivals spiked on 29th March at 766 after several days of arrivals averaging about 300 people a day.

Without urgent further EU support, the limited capacity of the Greek asylum service to register and process asylum claims will create problems, she said. Limited hours of registration, daily ceilings on registrations, a lack of access to the Skype system for registration set up by the Asylum Services, are at present adding to the anxiety.

In Turkey, UNHCR has requested access to people returned from Greece, to ensure people can benefit from effective international protection and to prevent risk of refoulement. UNHCR hopes that the Temporary Protection regulation required for granting or reinstating temporary protection status for Syrians readmitted from Greece will be adopted soon.

UNHCR has set out the safeguards that would be required for safe readmission from Greece to Turkey, most recently in a paper of 23 March.

In line with its global policy on promoting alternatives to detention, UNHCR has had to suspend services at all closed facilities, with the exception of protection monitoring and providing information on asylum procedures, she said.

In March, sea arrivals down in Greece, up in Italy

Greece saw more than 150,700 sea arrivals for the first three months of 2016, albeit with lower arrivals in March.

Sea arrivals on the other main Mediterranean route – from North Africa to Italy – increased to 18,784 from 10,165 recorded in the same period of 2015, representing a more than 80 per cent increase, with March arrivals showing a four-fold increase. These are predominantly Nigerians, Gambians, Senegalese, Malians and other West African nationals.