Turkey has promised to protect all refugees returned from Greece under a migration deal struck with the European Union, the bloc's executive said Tuesday, paving the way for Greece to send back Syrians and other nationals.
Under the deal struck last month, new arrivals from Turkey to the Greek islands can be returned to Turkey. For every Syrian refugee sent back in this way, EU member states will take in one Syrian living in Turkey.
The deal is aimed at stemming a migration surge that saw more than 1 million migrants and asylum seekers reach European shores last year. Many were fleeing the war in Syria.
For the arrangement to work, however, Turkey must provide safeguards to anyone in need of protection, in line with EU and international law, and cannot send them back to countries where they are at risk - a concept known as non-refoulement.
So far, Ankara had only promised to protect any returned Syrian nationals.
Turkey has now provided written assurances that "non-Syrians in need of international protection returned from Greece to Turkey will be able to apply and receive that protection and will be protected from non-refoulement," European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Tuesday.
The letter from Ankara will be shared with the Greek authorities, Schinas added, noting that it is up to them to decide whether individuals can be returned to Turkey.
Under the EU-Turkey deal, Athens can send back any asylum seeker who will receive international protection in Turkey, arguing that they should have filed their asylum application there, rather than continuing their journey to Greece.
The deal has been slammed by human rights advocates, who argue that it is inhumane and both morally and legally questionable.
Meanwhile, another batch of migrants found to have entered Greece illegally was sent back to Turkey as part of the EU-Ankara deal.
"Today we sent back a total of 49 migrants to Turkey," a spokesman for the Greek coastguard told dpa.
Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reported that the migrants were returned from multiple points in Greece to three Turkish points. It said the groups include Iranian and Afghan nationals and included at least three children and one woman.
Tuesday's returns bring the total number of people sent back to Turkey under the agreement, which came into effect on March 22, to 374.
In the 24-hour period to Tuesday, 12 others arrived in Lesbos from Turkey who were not covered by the deal, a much lower number than has been the case so far this year.