Turkey is sending backs hundreds of refugees to Syria "on a near-daily basis" since January, Amnesty International charged in a report Friday, arguing against the deal between the European Union and Ankara on stemming migration flows to the bloc.
Amnesty said that the "large scale" forced returns to Syria of thousands of refugees are illegal. It expressed its concern ahead of the first readmissions to Turkey of thousands of Syrians who have arrived on the Greek islands, due to start next week.
“In their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have willfully ignored the simplest of facts: Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe.
The EU-Turkey deal, which relies on defining Turkey as a safe country, "can only be implemented with the hardest of hearts and a blithe disregard for international law,” he added.
Numerous human rights and humanitarian aid groups have expressed concerns about the deal, including Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the UN's refugee agency.
More than 1 million migrants, including many refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, landed on Europe's shores last year.
More than 100,000 have arrived since the start of this year, though there are signs since the EU-Turkey deal was reached last month that Ankara has taken steps to stop migrants leaving its shores.
Turkey, a staunch supporter of the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is home to well over 2 million Syrian refugees alone and the government says it has spent 10 billion dollars caring for them.
Europe has pledged 6 billion dollars in aid - as well as promising to advance talks on visa-free access for Turks to the bloc and to make progress on Turkey's EU accession talks - in exchange for Turkey working to end the flow of migrants.