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The United Nations Refugee Agency today distanced itself from an outline joint EU-Turkey deal to solve Europe's refugee crisis, saying it was concerned with some aspects of the proposal although it was not yet privy to all the details.
"As a first reaction, I am deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law," Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said on Tuesday.
Grandi, who was speaking to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on the occasion of International Women's Day, stressed that legal safeguards would need to govern any mechanism under which responsibility would be transferred for assessing an asylum claim.
"An asylum-seeker should only be returned to a third state, if the responsibility for assessing the particular asylum application in substance is assumed by the third country; the asylum-seeker will be protected from refoulement; and if the individual will be able to seek and, if recognized, enjoy asylum in accordance with accepted international standards, and have full and effective access to education, work, health care and, as necessary, social assistance," he detailed.
Earlier, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, had separately expressed concern over the deal but said it welcomed the EU's financial contribution to support Turkey and the refugee communities in Turkey.
"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," William Spindler, the spokesperson for Europe, told a press briefing in Geneva.
Spindler said 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, adding that: "Details of all these safeguards should be clarified before the next meeting of the EU Council on 17 March."
On the resettlement point, UNHCR said it welcomed any initiative that promoted 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.
However, Spindler noted that: "Europe's resettlement commitments remain however, very low compared to the needs – i.e. 20,000 places within two years on a voluntary basis."
Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's Regional Refugee Coordinator for the Refugee Crisis in Europe, added his voice to those expressing concern over the draft EU-Turkey plan.
"The collective expulsion of foreigners is prohibited under the European Convention of Human Rights," Cochetel told the Geneva press briefing in answer to questions.
"An agreement that would be tantamount to a blanket return to a third country is not consistent with European law, not consistent with international law," he said.
To read a briefing note setting out UNHCR’s reaction to the statement by the EU heads of state and Turkey, please click here.