The first boats carrying migrants being deported from Greece have arrived in Turkey as part of an EU plan aimed at easing mass migration to Europe. Most of the 202 people who left Lesbos and Chios, and arrived at Dikili in western Turkey, are Pakistanis. Under the deal, for each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, the EU is due to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request. Thirty-two Syrian migrants were the first to arrive in Germany from Turkey. They were flown to Hanover in Lower Saxony, officials say. However, Syrians were not aboard the first three boats carrying deportees, the Greek authorities say, adding that they included citizens from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Morocco who had not applied for asylum.
Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister, Volkan Bozkir, also said no Syrians had been sent from Greece while the Greek authorities said those deported only included migrants who had not sought asylum. The first returns were carried out calmly, Ewa Moncure, spokeswoman for the EU border agency Frontex, told reporters in Lesbos. Activists staged small protests there and some shouted “No to deportations” and “EU, shame on you”.
There was also a demonstration in Dikili. Under the EU-Turkish deal, migrants arriving illegally in Greece are expected to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected. Shortly after the returns started, Greek coast officials rescued two boats near Lesbos with more than 50 migrants, including children and a woman in a wheelchair, Reuters news agency says.
Migrants in Greece have complained of a lack of information about the asylum procedure and some say they were unaware they could be returned. Frontex has been calling on EU member states to come forward with additional police officers and other staff to bring its mission in Greece up to strength.
Three boats docked at Dikili port, a tiny fraction of those still stuck in Greece, and were met by local officials and the Turkish Red Crescent. They were registered in a small tent before being driven away on buses. Most of Monday’s arrivals were from Pakistan. They, with other non-Syrians, will be taken to deportation centres where their cases will be assessed.
Turkey has now signed readmission agreements with fourteen countries. Syrians refused asylum in Greece will be taken to refugee camps in southern Turkey where, in time, they will take the place of those Syrians directly resettled in the EU under the so-called “one-for-one plan”.
The arrangement has alarmed rights groups, who say Turkey is not a safe country for migrants. Amnesty International has accused Turkey of illegally returning Syrians to their homeland, something Turkey denies. Save the Children called the deal “illegal and inhumane”, saying people had told them they would kill themselves if sent back to Turkey.