Under the accord reached on March 18 of last year, Turkey agreed to crack down on migrant flows, mainly of Syrians, in exchange for more aid, visa-free travel and the speeding up of Ankara’s long-stalled EU accession talks.
But with Turkey now threatening to scrap the deal following a bitter diplomatic spat with several European governments, UNICEF’s remarks came as a warning to those who view the pact as a success.
“While there has been a major decrease in the overall numbers of children on the move into Europe since last March, there has been an increase in the threats and distress refugee and migrant children endure,” UNICEF’s migrant crisis coordinator Afshan Khan said in a statement.
Newspaper in Turkey hits out at Germany’s Merkel
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Melandri said a central part of the deal was the relocation within the European Union of at least 120,000 migrants from Greece and Italy.
But so far, only 14,412 people have been relocated, according to figures correct to March 15.
– Refugees as ‘bargaining chips’ –
“We are observing what we call broken promises,” he said, noting that only a few dozen of that number were unaccompanied migrant children.
Children separated from their parents have made up a significant percentage of those heading for Europe to escape conflict, but estimating their numbers has been difficult, the UNICEF official added.
The war of words between the EU and Turkey over the migrant deal has escalated in recent days after Ankara blasted Germany and the Netherlands for preventing Turkish ministers from campaigning ahead of a key April referendum.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he delivers a speech during the mukhtars (local town government heads) meeting at the Presidential Complex in Ankara on March 16, 2016 AFP/Getty Images
The EU said it expects Turkey to honour the deal after Turkey threatened to bin it.
Melandri scolded those seeking to use asylum seekers as “bargaining” chips.
“Refugees and migrants should not be manipulated for political reasons,” he told reporters.