ANKARA (Reuters) - Amnesty International accused Turkey on Wednesday of forcibly returning some thirty Afghan asylum-seekers to Afghanistan despite them fearing Taliban attacks, soon after a migration agreement was reached with the European Union.
Last week, the European Union sealed a deal with Turkey, criticized by human rights groups, that was intended to halt illegal migration flows to Europe in return for financial and political rewards for Ankara.
“Turkey’s forcible return of around 30 Afghan asylum seekers just hours after the European Union-Turkey refugee deal came into force shows that implementing the deal would risk refugees’ lives from the word go,” the human rights group said.
The Turkish foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment.
Amnesty said it had credible information indicating that Turkey violated European and international law by forcibly returning the asylum-seekers, who fear attacks by the Taliban, to Kabul without granting them access to an asylum procedure.
“This latest episode highlights the risks of returning asylum seekers to Turkey – and the knock-on effects the deal is likely to have for refugees transiting through Turkey. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.
One of the Afghans in the group told Amnesty he had been part of a group trying to reach Greece by boat. They were apprehended by the Turkish coastguard and then detained in the western coastal city of Izmir.
When contacted by Amnesty International about the returns, the Turkish Directorate General of Migration Management acknowledged the return of 27 Afghans, but insisted that all were returned voluntarily and that none had requested asylum.
A December 2015 report by the Amnesty had claimed that refugees and asylum-seekers were apprehended at the western border, detained without access to lawyers, and then forcibly returned to Syria and Iraq after being forced to sign “voluntary return” papers.
“Returns to Turkey cannot proceed on the basis that Turkey is a safe country for refugees. The EU should adopt an independent resettlement plan and work with its partner Turkey to end the abuse of refugee rights,” said Dalhuisen.
Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Daren Butler and Richard Balmforth