News / Europe

    UN Agencies: EU-Turkey Deal Does Not Safeguard Refugee Rights

    FILE - A banner placed by activists is seen on a street sign at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, Greece, March 17, 2016.
    FILE - A banner placed by activists is seen on a street sign at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, Greece, March 17, 2016.
    Lisa Schlein

    U.N. humanitarian agencies are expressing concern a recent European Union-Turkey agreement does not safeguard the rights of the thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and other people fleeing to Greece in search of a save haven from conflict and persecution.

    U.N. refugee agency UNHCR has been supporting the authorities in the so-called “hotspots” on the Greek islands, by receiving, assisting and registering newly arriving refugees and migrants.

    UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the agency is suspending its activities in these centers, saying that because of the provisions of the EU-Turkey agreement, these sites have become detention facilities.

    “Basically, we were providing humanitarian services in those centers, distribution of humanitarian assistance.  We will no longer be doing that and we will not be transporting people to the centers, nor will we be taking part in the transportation or transfer of people to the ports where they eventually may be transferred back to Turkey,” Fleming said.  

    The UNHCR is not party to the EU-Turkey deal, but provided legal judgments and recommendations safeguarding the rights of refugees.  

    Fleming told VOA these rights have to be in place for the agreement to be acceptable under international and human rights law.

    ‘Whether or not it violates anything is still to be judged upon implementation…. All we can say today is that those safeguards are not in place.”  

    Children play at Idomeni refugee camp on the Greece-Macedonia border, March 8, 2016. (Jamie Dettmer for VOA)
    Children play at Idomeni refugee camp on the Greece-Macedonia border, March 8, 2016. (Jamie Dettmer for VOA)

    'Best interests'

    U.N. children's agency UNICEF spokeswoman Sarah Crowe said 19,000 children are stranded in Greece and 10 percent are unaccompanied and in need of protective care.

    ”No child should be detained simply for being a refugee or a migrant.  Children are entitled to a full hearing and assessment of their best interests prior to any decision taken related to them, including on return,” said Crowe.

    UNICEF said children who are stranded in Greece for long periods should be given emergency education, and refugee and migrant children should be vaccinated against measles, polio and pneumococcal infections.  

    The agency warns the agreement’s measures could push children and families to take other, more dangerous routes to Europe.

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