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Spain opposes blanket return of refugees to Turkey — foreign minister

José Manuel García-Margallo will defend case-by-case review of situations at EU meeting

Acting foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo travelled to Brussels on Monday.

Spain opposes mass returns of refugees from Greece to Turkey, and will say so at a meeting of ministers being held in Brussels on Monday.

Acting Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said upon his arrival at the Belgian capital that Turkey’s proposal to accept refugees trapped in Greece in exchange for Europe accepting the same number of Turkey-based migrants “seemed unacceptable to us from the very beginning.”

Instead, Spain will defend a personalized approach that takes into account each refugee’s background.

The main thing is the content, not the actor who delivers the lines

José Manuel García-Margallo

“Anyone arriving on European territory must have the right to individualized attention, to filing an asylum request that will be taken into consideration, and to appeal if the request is denied. Throughout this process, any possibility of expulsion is suspended,” said García-Margallo ahead of the gathering of foreign ministers.

Although the Spanish minister claims that this has always been his government’s position on the matter, his firmness was not always so obvious. A week ago, all EU leaders, including Spain’s, approved the proposal to send Syrians back to Turkey.

Last Thursday, acting interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz even criticized Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez for considering the agreement with Turkey illegal when other social-democrats in France and Italy had backed it.

Now, García-Margallo is demanding a deal that is “compatible with international laws and respectful of human rights.”

The German-sponsored agreement foresees sending all foreigners who arrive in Greece – including Syrians – back to Turkey. In exchange, the EU is promising visa-free travel for Turkish citizens starting in June, and faster procedures to extend EU membership to this country. Also on the table is a financial aid package of €3 billion, which Ankara wants to see doubled.

García-Margallo also said that the Spanish government will explain the European deal with Turkey in Congress, as it did in connection with the Brexit. But he failed to specify whether acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy will do the explaining, as he has refused to do to date.

Refugees trapped in Idomeni, on the Greek border with Macedonia. AP

“The main thing is the content, not the actor who delivers the lines,” said the acting foreign minister.

A report by the state attorneys’ office notes that an acting government is under the obligation to secure congressional support to approve decisions that might affect the future executive.

The European Parliament and the United Nations have already expressed misgivings regarding the lawfulness of the deal. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has admitted that it may require the Greek and Turkish parliaments to first pass changes to their own national legislations.

English version by Susana Urra.

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