The mass expulsion of migrants from Greece to Turkey under a draft EU-Ankara deal to ease the migrant crisis would be "illegal," the UN warned Thursday.
While EU countries squabbled over how to cope with the bloc's worst migration crisis since World War II, UN rights chief Zeid Raad Al Hussein said the proposed deal with Turkey raised "a number of very serious concerns."
"Among my concerns is the potential for collective and arbitrary expulsions, which are illegal," he told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
EU leaders had hoped the deal with Turkey - due to be finalised at an EU summit next week - could reduced the number of refugees and migrants travelling to Europe.
Underscoring yet again the human tragedy of the crisis, a new boat capsized off the Turkish coast on Thursday, claiming five lives including a 3-month-old baby.
The EU-Turkey plan drawn up on Monday would see Ankara take back all illegal migrants landing in Greece, in a bid to reduce their incentive to get to Europe.
In return for every expulsion from Greece, the EU would resettle one Syrian refugee from camps in Turkey - which is hosting about 2.7 million people who have fled the conflict across the border.
And in exchange for its cooperation, Turkey wants six billion euros ($6.6 billion) in aid, visa-free access to Europe's passport-free Schengen zone and a speeding up of its efforts to join the EU.
|I urge the EU to adopt a much more rights-compliant and humane set of measures on migration at next week's summit.
Zeid Raad Al Hussein
Ankara's EU affairs minister Volkan Bozkir also underlined Thursday that the deal would not be retroactive, and would "not include the existing refugees on the Greek islands."
The crisis has exposed sharp divisions in the 28-member bloc, with the leaders of Greece and Germany blasting Balkan countries for slamming shut their borders.
The EU "has no future if it goes on like that," warned Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the border closures were "neither sustainable nor lasting."
Their reactions flew in the face of the response of EU President Donald Tusk, who welcomed the Balkan route closure as being part of a collective response from the bloc.
The strong words came after Slovenia and Croatia on Wednesday barred entry to transiting migrants and refugees, while Serbia indicated it would follow suit.
EU member Slovenia said it would allow in only migrants wishing to claim asylum there or those seeking entry "on humanitarian grounds" and in accordance with the rules of the no-passport Schengen zone.
Meanwhile, even some EU ministers voiced opposition to the plan with Turkey hammered out by all 28 leaders only a few days earlier.
"I am extremely critical," said Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting in Brussels.
"I am seriously wondering whether we are taking ourselves and our values seriously or if we are throwing them overboard," she said, in a reference to concerns over human rights violations in Turkey.
The UN rights chief said that more than 400 people had died trying to reach Europe in the first two months of this year alone.
"I urge the EU to adopt a much more rights-compliant and humane set of measures on migration at next week's summit," he said.
Agencies contributed to this report