ISTANBUL (AP) — Leading rights groups used World Refugee Day Monday to criticize the recent EU-Turkey refugee agreement and the conditions in which refugees live in Turkey.
At a press conference in central Istanbul, Amnesty International's Turkey branch called on all countries to take greater responsibility in protecting refugees.
Instead of increasing the means by which refugees could safely and legally enter Europe, "the EU made unlawful agreements with Turkey in order to stem the tide of migration," Amnesty said in a statement. Thousands of migrants have lost their lives on the perilous sea journey to Europe.
An EU-Turkey agreement reached in March allows Greece to return Syrian asylum seekers to Turkey without evaluation of their protection claims on the basis it is a "safe third country."
In order to limit refugees crossing into Greece by sea in keeping with the agreement, Amnesty claimed Turkey had not only increased unlawful detentions but was also forcibly returning them to Syria or pressuring them to return "voluntarily."
It called on Ankara to provide refugees with a means to a basic livelihood — jobs, health services and education — and urged the EU to immediately halt sending refugees back to Turkey on the grounds that it was a "safe third country."
Human Rights Watch also urged the EU to evaluate Syrian refugees' protection claims before returning them to Turkey, citing a lack of refugee rights and saying they lacked necessities to create a decent life.
"It is hardly surprising that many are not getting the support they desperately need to maintain livelihoods," considering Turkey is host to over 2 million Syrian refugees, said Stephanie Gee, a fellow with the refugee rights program at HRW.
Gee urged international donors to support Ankara's efforts to improve basic rights for refugees. In the meantime, she added, the European Asylum Support Office and Greece should consider on their merits all asylum applications of Syrians who have come through Turkey, rather than viewing them as inadmissible on the grounds that Turkey is a "safe third country."
HRW said "safe" should mean not just protection from war or prosecution, but should also include the right to work, health care and education.
The EU-Turkey deal is part of efforts to stem the tide of migrants to Europe. In exchange for at least 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) and fast-track EU accession talks, Turkey has agreed to take back migrants who reach the shores of Greece after March 20. The bloc, in turn, will take in a Syrian refugee based in Turkey for every Syrian sent back from Greece.
Ankara says it is hosting 3 million refugees, among them 2.75 million Syrians.