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Bishop criticises forced return of refugees to Turkey

By Sarah Mac Donald - 07 April, 2016

Pope Francis to visit the Greek island of Lesbos next week as a gesture of solidarity with migrants.

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Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin has expressed concern over the consequences of the controversial EU plan to deport refugees who arrived on or after March 20 in Greece back to Turkey unless they qualify for asylum.

In a statement, Bishop Doran said the recent arrangement with Turkey seems to be “a direct result of the failure of the EU to act as a community, sharing the responsibilities that go with the privileges”.

He warned that as direct provision has been largely discredited as an appropriate response to unregulated immigration, the decision by the European Union to use Turkey “as a massive extra-territorial direct provision centre seems to be neither constructive nor humane.”

The EU bid to stem the flow of refugees began on Monday with more than 200 people deported from Lesbos and the Greek island of Chios back to Turkey.

Human rights organisations have denounced the deportations saying they run counter to Europe’s obligations to protect refugees.

However, European officials have insisted the EU-Turkey agreement is the only way to deter people from heading to Greece from the nearby Turkish coast.

Under the deal, for every Syrian returned, Europe will take a Syrian to be resettled in an EU country.

In his statement this week, Bishop Doran said, “Under the terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’. This principle has been repeatedly endorsed in the social teaching of the Catholic Church.”

He underlined that “Under international law, a person is entitled to make an application for asylum and to have the application individually assessed.”

“It is difficult to believe that, without the proper structures in place, those who, from today, are being returned to Turkey by the shipload, can have had their applications processed in accordance with international law,” Dr Doran stated.

He added, “Nor is it clear what arrangements have been made in Ireland or elsewhere in the EU, to welcome their proposed ‘replacements’, who are currently in camps in Turkey.”

Separately, the Vatican on Thursday confirmed that Pope Francis will visit the Greek island of Lesbos next week as a gesture of solidarity with migrants and the humanitarian problems they have encountered.

In a communique released by the Holy See Press Office, the Vatican said the Pontiff had accepted the invitations of Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew and of the Greek president.

Pope Francis will meet with the refugees on the island together with the Ecumenical Patriarch and with His Beatitude Hieronimus II, Archbishop of Athens and of Greece.

Pope Francis, the son of Italian migrants, has expressed a desire to visit one of the islands “in order to draw attention to the humanitarian problems of the migrants”.

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