Migrant crisis: Amnesty hits out at EU over Turkey deal

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Media captionUnder a new EU arrangement, migrants arriving on Greek shores from Turkey would be sent back

Amnesty International has accused European leaders of "double speak" over a deal to return migrants to Turkey.

The leading human rights charity said the deal failed to hide the EU's "dogged determination to turn its back on a global refugee crisis".

Under the plan, migrants arriving in Greece will be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or their claim is rejected.

In return, Turkey will receive aid and political concessions.

Under the EU-Turkey deal, Greek authorities will still process requests for asylum individually.

However, many migrants, including Syrians, are keen to go to Germany and other northern European Union countries and have previously refused to apply for asylum in Greece, as requested by the current procedure.

The deal says that for every Syrian migrant sent back to Turkey, one Syrian already in Turkey will be resettled in the EU.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Director for Europe and Central Asia, said promises by the EU to respect international and European law "appear suspiciously like sugar-coating the cyanide pill that refugee protection in Europe has just been forced to swallow".

He added: "Guarantees to scrupulously respect international law are incompatible with the touted return to Turkey of all irregular migrants arriving on the Greek islands as of Sunday.

Analysis: BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels

Scepticism hangs heavy in the air about a host of legal issues, and about whether the agreement can actually work in practice.

The idea at the heart of the deal - sending virtually all irregular migrants back to Turkey from the Greek islands - is the most controversial.

European leaders insist that everything will be in compliance with the law.

"It excludes any kind of collective expulsions," emphasised European Council President Donald Tusk.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) will take part in the scheme, but it is clearly uncomfortable with what has been agreed.

Read more from Chris

Turkey is "not a safe country for refugees and migrants", Mr Dalhuisen said, adding that any deal to return migrants based on claims it was would be "flawed, illegal and immoral".

It is hoped the plan, agreed at a summit in Brussels, will deter people from taking the often dangerous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece.

As part of the arrangement, EU countries will resettle Syrian migrants already living in Turkey. EU leaders have welcomed the agreement, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of legal challenges to come.

Some of the initial concessions offered to Turkey have been watered down and some EU members expressed disquiet over Turkey's human rights record.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu hailed it as a "historic" day.

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Image caption Thousands of migrants are stuck at the Greek border

European Council President Donald Tusk said there had been unanimous agreement between Turkey and the 28 EU members.

The UN warned that Greece's capacity to assess asylum claims needed to be strengthened for the deal. Implementation was "crucial", the organisation said.

Since January 2015, a million migrants and refugees have entered the EU by boat from Turkey to Greece. More than 132,000 have arrived this year alone. Tens of thousands are now stuck in Greece as their route north has been blocked.

Greek Interior Minister Panagiotis Kouroublis has compared conditions at the Idomeni camp, on the border with Macedonia, to a Nazi concentration camp.

Key points from the agreement

  • Returns: All "irregular migrants" crossing from Turkey into Greece from 20 March will be sent back. Each arrival will be individually assessed by the Greek authorities.
  • One-for-one: For each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, another Syrian migrant will be resettled in the EU. Priority will be given to those who have not tried to illegally enter the EU and the number is capped at 72,000.
  • Visa restrictions: Turkish nationals should have access to the Schengen passport-free zone by June. This will not apply to non-Schengen countries like Britain.
  • Financial aid: The EU is to speed up the allocation of €3 bn ($3.3 bn; £2.3 bn) in aid to Turkey to help migrants.
  • Turkey EU membership: Both sides agreed to "re-energise" Turkey's bid to join the European bloc, with talks due by July.

The Turkey-EU statement in full

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.