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EU-Turkey plan to deport refugees may be illegal: UN official

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Refugees on the rail tracks in the makeshift camp at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the Greek village of Idomeni on April 1, 2016, where thousands of people are stranded by the Balkan border blockade (photos by AFP)

A senior United Nations official has said that European Union’s plan to deport back to Turkey refugees fleeing the foreign-backed war in Syria could be illegal.

UN secretary general’s special representative for international migration and development, Peter Sutherland, stated on Saturday that deporting the asylum seekers without first considering their applications would be in violation of international law.

The development comes amid rising concerns that Greece lacks the infrastructure required for carrying out the deal between the EU and Ankara, which is expected to take place on Monday. Greek immigration authorities have already declared they need more staff to implement the plan.

Refugees block the highway near the town of Polykastro to protest the opening of the Greek-Macedonian border on April 2, 2016 after thousands of them are stranded by the Balkan border blockade. 

Sutherland’s remarks came during an interview with a BBC radio show. In response to a question on whether EU’s plan could be illegal he said, “Absolutely, and there are two fundamental reasons for this."

"Collective deportations without having regard to the individual rights of those who claim to be refugees are illegal. Now, we don’t know what is going to happen next week, but if there is any question of collective deportations without individuals being given the right to claim asylum, that is illegal.”

Refugees hold hands as they block a highway near Polykastro to protest for the opening of the Greek-Macedonian border on April 2, 2016. 

“Secondly, their rights have to be absolutely protected where they are deported to, in other words Turkey. There has to be adequate assurances they can’t be sent back from Turkey to Syria, for example if they are Syrian refugees, or Afghanistan or wherever.”

Unrest has already broken out among refugees in Greece in anticipation of the implementation of the deal. On the Greek island of Chios, hundreds of people tore down a razor wire fence that had kept them captive inside a camp.

Sutherland further stated that whatever the outcome of the EU-Turkey deal, more had to be done to tackle the refugee crisis, not just in Europe but throughout the world.

“What has been happening has been a gradual pushing back and back and back, by building fences right up through the Balkans, stopping them leaving from Greece and now pushing them back from Greece into Turkey,” he said.

“This is an unsustainable position,” the UN official insisted. “We have a global responsibility here, a global responsibility to people in desperate circumstances, who are prepared to risk their lives trying to get across the Mediterranean.”

Later on Saturday, Turkey rejected allegations by rights groups such as Amnesty International that it was forcibly deporting Syrian refugees to the terror-inflicted nation.

"The allegations do not reflect reality in any way," said the Turkish foreign ministry in a statement adding, "It is sad that this kind of news was shared with the public in such an intense way."

Amnesty said on Friday that Ankara was illegally forcing nearly 100 Syrians per day to return home, insisting that the move reflected "fatal flaws" in the EU-Turkey refugee deal.

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