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Published 18 March 2016

Leaders from the EU and Turkey have agreed to send new refugees back to Turkey in exchange for repatriating others in Europe.

European Union leaders concluded a controversial deal with Turkey on Friday intended to halt illegal migration flow to Europe in return for financial and political rewards for Ankara.

Many rights organizations have condemned the deal, including Oxfam which said, "it not only fails to respect the spirit of international and EU laws, but may amount to trading human beings for political concessions."

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“Last week's EU decision to ‘end’ the Balkans route has led to another humanitarian emergency, and taking this approach with the Turkey-Greece route is a further step down this path of inhumanity. The cost of European border control cannot continue to be paid with human lives," said Oxfam in a press release Friday.

The new accord aims to close the main route over which a million refugees and migrants poured across the Aegean Sea to Greece before marching north to Germany and Sweden in the last year. But deep doubts remain about whether it is legal or workable.

After a morning of talks with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, European Council President Donald Tusk recommended that the 28 EU member states approve the text without changes and they rapidly agreed at a summit lunch in Brussels.

“Agreement with Turkey approved. All illegal migrants who arrive to Greece from Turkey starting March 20 will be returned!” Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka tweeted, before Tusk confirmed unanimous agreement between the EU and Turkey.

Amnesty International also spoke out against the deal, it is cloaked in “double-speak” which hides “the European Union’s dogged determination to turn its back on a global refugee crisis, and wilfully ignore its international obligations,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s director for Europe and Central Asia.

Under the pact, Ankara would take back all illegal migrants who cross into Greece, including Syrians, in return for the EU taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and rewarding it with more money, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.

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Refugees and migrants who arrive in Greece from Sunday will be subject to being sent back to Turkey once they are registered and their asylum claim is processed. A senior Turkish official said the returns would begin on April 4 and resettlement of Syrian refugees in Europe would begin simultaneously.

The EU also agreed to accelerate disbursement of 3 billion euros (US$3.4 billion) already pledged in support for refugees in Turkey and to provide a further 3 billion euro by 2018 once Ankara came up with a list of projects that qualified for EU assistance.

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