Turkish FM says we will not return refugees to conflict zones

Turkish Foreign Minister says refugees will not be sent to conflict zones within draft agreement with EU

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during an interview in Ankara, Turkey.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that Turkey has no intention of sending refugees back to conflict zones after reaching a draft agreement on the refugee crisis with the European Union and sees no legal hurdles to implementing the deal.

The EU has largely accepted Turkey's terms in the draft agreement, Cavusoglu said.

On Monday, EU accepted Turkey’s offer in order to end irregular refugee flux to Europe from war-torn Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Iraq.

According to plan, Turkey will take back all refugees who cross into Europe illegally from its soil and for every refugee returned to Turkey, another would be resettled in one of the EU countries.

EU leaders accepted the offer in principle, with Donald Tusk, European Council president, saying the deal was a "breakthrough" that sent "a very clear message that the days of irregular migration are over."

However, the UN's refugee agency voiced concerns about the deal, saying that it will contravene their right to protection under European and international law.

"The collective expulsion of foreigners is prohibited under the European Convention of Human Rights," Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's Europe regional director, said in Geneva on Tuesday.

"An agreement that would be tantamount to a blanket return of any foreigners to a third country, is not consistent with European law, is not consistent with international law,” he added.

Cochetel said nine in 10 of those arriving in Europe each day were Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans "fleeing for their life" who deserved international protection.

Europe's commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees over two years, on a voluntary basis, remains "very low", he said.

“Turkey has done more than all EU countries”

Europe 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, Cochetel said.

"What didn't happen from Greece, will it happen from Turkey? We'll see, I have some doubts," he added.

Turkey is hosting nearly 3 million Syrian refugees, the most worldwide, and has "done more than all the EU countries together", he said. But its acceptance rate for refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran is "very low", at about 3 percent, Cochetel said.

"We hope that the EU member states and Turkey will come up with a balanced agreement and that this balanced agreement won't be to the detriment of people seeking international protection."

TRTWorld, Reuters