The European Union has started deporting migrants from Greece as part of its controversial deal with Turkey. The agreement, aimed at stemming the massive flow of migrants into the EU, has been widely criticized by rights groups.
Joanna Kakissis on the Greek island of Lesbos tells our Newscast unit that three ferries left the islands of Lesbos and Chios this morning, accompanied by officers from Frontex, the EU border agency.
According to Greece's spokesman on refugee issues, 200 of the migrants deported today are Pakistani and "two are Syrians who chose to leave," Joanna reports. She adds: "Greek government officials say those on board are leaving because they did not request asylum in Greece."
NPR's Peter Kenyon was on the other side of the Aegean Sea in Turkey as the boats landed. Security was tight, he says. Here's how he describes the scene:
"Residents of the small port town of Dikili on the Turkish coast would have been forgiven for thinking a crowd of hardened criminals was arriving. But it was only the first group of returning migrants, mainly Pakistanis, who are seeing their dreams of reaching the EU ended, for now at least."
Kenyon says these migrants will face limited prospects in Turkey: "A crackdown on smugglers and the shutting of borders along the route to Western Europe has many families staying put, despite the lack of jobs and insufficient school facilities for their children."
As we reported, the EU and Turkey reached this deal last month. It grants Turkey billions of dollars and visa-free travel to the EU for its citizens in exchange for taking in new migrants who land in Greece. (The vast majority of migrants arriving in Greece come through Turkey.) Deported Syrians can apply for asylum in the EU. The deal is meant to be a one-to-one trade: For every Syrian migrant sent to Turkey, a Syrian asylum seeker is meant to be resettled from Turkey to the EU.
According to the terms of the deal, only migrants who arrived in Greece after March 20 will be deported to Turkey.
The agreement was unanimously supported by EU leaders. They argue it is a pragmatic solution that deters people-smugglers.
"The German ambassador to Turkey told reporters in Ankara that 40 Syrian refugees would be sent to Germany, as this controversial migrant agreement kicks in," Peter reports.
Reuters reports that the first group of Syrians to be transported to Germany arrived in Hanover this morning by plane, a total of 16.
At the same time, "human rights groups are concerned that migrants have not been properly informed about their options for asylum," Joanna says. She adds that migrants on Greek islands have been kept in closed detention centers since March 20.
"Despite the serious legal gaps and lack of adequate protection in Turkey, the EU is forging ahead with a dangerous deal," the head of Amnesty International in Greece, Giorgos Kosmopoulos, tells The Associated Press.
He adds: "Turkey is not a safe third country for refugees. The EU and Greek authorities know this and have no excuse."