EU ministers vow 'close eye' on migrant deal abuses on Turkey visit

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Istanbul (AFP)

EU ministers visited Turkey on Sunday, urging the country to carefully implement a deal on returning migrants and warning they would be keeping a close eye out for potential abuses.

A delegation led by Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, whose country currently holds the European Union presidency, visited Istanbul nearly a week after Greece began shipping migrants back to Turkey under a highly controversial deal to halt mass migration into Europe.

Rights activists have slammed the pact, arguing that Turkey is not a safe country for refugees, and raising concern that refugees would not be given their right to apply for asylum before being deported.

Koenders held talks with Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in which he highlighted "the importance of respecting humanitarian law and international agreements", said a statement from the Dutch government.

"The Turkish authorities endorse these principles, and that is of key importance. We will keep a very close eye on this," said Koenders.

Koenders also met with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and rights group Amnesty International.

The UNHCR said this week it was concerned for 13 people who were deported without being allowed to apply for asylum, while Amnesty has said Turkey could not be considered a "safe country" for the return of refugees.

"Reports of abuse should be carefully dealt with and the European Commission must be given the chance to examine these reports before any conclusions are drawn," said Koenders.

He was accompanied by ministers and state secretaries from France, Malta, Italy, Slovakia and Portugal, who also visited Greece on Saturday.

Under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal, all "irregular migrants" arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey face being sent back.

This week over 400 migrants were ferried back, however a last-minute flurry of asylum applications on the Greek islands slowed the transfers.

"I am confident that this agreement can significantly improve the situation for refugees," said Koenders.

Koenders thanked Turkey for its "devotion and energy" in housing over 2.7 million refugees from the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

"We are going to stop human trafficking, we are preventing people from risking their lives at sea and we are creating a fair and safe route for refugees to come to Europe."

The EU hopes the threat of deportation will stop people from making the perilous Aegean crossing in flimsy boats.

Under the deal, for every Syrian refugee sent back to Turkey, one Syrian will be resettled in Europe.