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EU members complain that Turkey sending unfit Syrians in swap deal

Turkey is sending ill and less-educated Syrians, EU members complain, as Ankara refuses to send Syrian academics
Around 400 people have been deported to Turkey from Europe since controversial deal began (AFP)

EU members have complained to Turkey for sending unwell Syrians to Europe as part of a controversial migrant swap deal, German daily Der Spiegel reported on Saturday.

Under a deal that came into force in March, the EU will resettle one Syrian refugee from camps in Turkey in exchange for each asylum seeker deported back to Turkey after arriving in Europe by boat.

So far around 400 people have been returned to Turkey under the deal, meaning in theory that 400 others have been resettled in Europe.

However, amid legal challenges to the deal, Der Spiegel's report suggests that tensions over the fine print could also be putting it at risk.

At a recent internal EU meeting in Brussels, a representative of Luxembourg reportedly criticised Turkey for sending “serious medical cases” as well as less educated Syrians as part of the scheme.

Germany's parliamentary state secretary in the interior ministry, Ole Schroeder, also reported to the country's parliament this week that Turkey is not sending highly educated Syrians to Europe.

Turkey has informed UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, that Syrian academics may not be included in the scheme and resettled to Europe.

UNHCR is usually in charge of identifying people eligible for refugee resettlement programmes, but in this case Turkey has insisted that it be in charge of selecting candidates.

There has been growing resentment between the EU and Turkey over recent weeks, with Turkish politicians repeatedly threatening to suspend the programme if its citizens are not granted visa-free travel to Europe.

The legality of the scheme, which has been criticised by rights groups as being immoral, came under renewed question on Friday when an independent appeals tribunal in Greece ruled that it would be unlawful to deport a Syrian asylum seeker back to Turkey.

A three-person appeals tribunal based in Lesbos ruled that Turkey does not uphold international treaties governing human rights, resulting in the overturn of the defendant's forced deportation.

“The committee has judged that the temporary protection which could be offered by Turkey to the applicant, as a Syrian citizen, does not offer him rights equivalent to those required by the Geneva convention,” the tribunal wrote in its verdict.

The ruling, which suggests that returning asylum seekers to Turkey could violate their human rights, could set a precedent that puts the continuation of the deal in serious doubt.

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