By Gabriela Baczynska and Karolina Tagaris
BRUSSELS/ATHENS (Reuters) - The European Union said on Monday a Syrian asylum seeker's successful appeal against deportation to Turkey proved the bloc's deal with Ankara to limit migration was legal, while rights groups said the ruling exposed its "fundamental flaws".
A Syrian national last week won the second and final appeal to Greece's asylum committee, which ruled the person would not be safe if returned to Turkey under an accord obliging Ankara to take back refugees and migrants who use people-smuggling gangs to reach Greek islands by boat from the nearby Turkish coast.
Should more asylum seekers secure similar decisions, it would undercut the rationale behind the EU pact with Turkey, meant to deter people from risking the sea voyage to Greece by showing they have little chance of being allowed to stay.
Rights groups criticised the March migration deal as immoral and against humanitarian law that bans arbitrary, mass deportation of asylum-seekers and says everyone must have an effective chance to have their requests individually assessed.
Despite that criticism, EU leaders - under heavy pressure from grassroots anti-migration sentiment growing across the bloc after some 1.3 million people entered the European continent last year - pushed that deal through. Arrivals on the Greek islands near Turkey have since slowed to a trickle.
Margaritis Schinas, spokesman for the executive European Commission, said the successful appeal proved the migration accord did not flout the law. "We made it very clear that all asylum applications would be treated on a case-by-case basis."
"In all cases there are individual interviews, individual assessment and rights of appeal so there will be no blanket, no automatic return of asylum seekers. This is happening," he said.
Schinas said 51 people who did not apply for asylum in Greece were sent back to Turkey on Friday, raising the total of returns under the March agreement to 441.
He added that Germany took in 103 Syrians directly from Turkey last Thursday under a provision of the pact obliging EU states to resettle one Syrian for every Syrian sent back. So far 280 Syrians have been brought into the EU under the clause.
Among the most important goals of the pact is to deter migrants from paying human traffickers for boats to take them from Turkey to Greece, as hundreds of thousands did during a mass influx last year.
Greek authorities have not disclosed details of the appeal. The government's spokesman for migration, Giorgos Kyritsis, said each case was assessed individually. "A positive or a negative decision does not prejudge the decision regarding another individual," he said.
But Amnesty International said it highlighted "fundamental flaws" of the EU's migration collaboration with Ankara.
"Turkey is not safe for refugees, it does not offer them full protection, and assurances on paper are simply not good enough," said Gauri van Gulik, AI's deputy director for Europe.
"Until Turkey ends all violations against refugees and guarantees them full protection, nobody else should be sent back under this deal. Instead, Europe should focus on its part of the deal by accepting refugees for resettlement from Turkey."
(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Mark Heinrich)