US: EU, Turkey migrant deal 'important step'

2016-03-19 20:00
People pass a child from hand to hand as migrants cross a river north of Idomeni, Greece, in an attempt to reach Macedonia.  (Vadim Ghirda, AP)

People pass a child from hand to hand as migrants cross a river north of Idomeni, Greece, in an attempt to reach Macedonia. (Vadim Ghirda, AP)

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Washington - The United States views a deal by Turkish and EU leaders to curb the influx of migrants into Europe as an "important step," the State Department said.

Under the deal all migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey as early as Sunday will be turned back.

"We strongly endorse action to shut down the illegal smuggling operations that prey on and exploit vulnerable migrants," State Department spokesperson John Kirby said on Friday in a statement.

"We commend language in the agreement affirming that all refugees deserve access to protection and which makes clear the agreement will be implemented in full accordance with EU and international law."

The European and Turkish leaders warned that a Herculean task lay ahead to implement the accord, which was agreed on Friday.

Under the deal, Turkey extracted a string of political and financial concessions in exchange for becoming a bulwark against the flow of desperate humanity heading to Europe from Syria and elsewhere.

EU president Donald Tusk said that all "irregular" migrants would be returned to Turkey from Sunday.

For every Syrian refugee expelled, the EU would resettle one directly from Turkey.

"We commend Turkish efforts to date in generously hosting more than 2.7 million refugees from Syria," Kirby said.

"The United States views as an important step the agreement reached today (Friday) between the EU and Turkey on responding to the unprecedented flow of refugees and migrants in the region," he added.

However, the United Nations and rights groups fear the deal could violate international law that forbids the mass deportation of refugees.

Rights watchdogs said they would monitor closely to ensure that those seeking asylum are protected.

Apart from shutting down illegal smuggling, Kirby said other key actions must include "rapid registration and processing of asylum claims, humane handling of migrant returns, quick provision of promised support to Greece and Turkey, and solidarity among EU member states in meeting their commitments".

"The United States stands ready to increase our support to affected countries and to help other nations neighbouring Syria," Kirby said, adding that the United States will convene a President's Summit on Refugees in New York on September 20.

Around 4 000 people including women and children have drowned crossing the Aegean Sea in flimsy smugglers' boats, including 400 this year alone.

Read more on:    un  |  eu  |  turkey  |  us  |  greece  |  migrants

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