First deportations from Greece pass smoothly
Published 05/04/2016 | 02:30
The first batch of migrants was expelled from Greece and taken by boat to Turkey early yesterday in a modest but smooth start to a controversial deal designed to tackle Europe's refugee crisis.
A group of 131 Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, who were judged to be economic migrants, rather than asylum seekers, was taken from the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos before dawn and loaded onto two passenger ferries.
The ferries took them to the small Turkish port of Dikili, across the Aegean.
In an early indication of the expense and logistical challenge of the whole operation, each migrant was accompanied by a police officer from Frontex, the European border agency.
Frontex has 300 officers on Lesbos and more officers on other islands where refugees are being held, close to the Turkish border.
There were no protests or scuffles from the South Asian migrants. None of them had made applications for asylum in Europe, authorities said. There were no children or women among the group.
Some 66 migrants from Pakistan, India and Afghanistan were also sent from Chios to Dikili.
Refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, who are due to be expelled under the plan in the coming weeks, are expected to put up more resistance.
A group of activists in two dinghies unfurled a banner which read: "Ferries for safe passage, not for deportation."
However, other than that, there were no protests.
"This is the first operation of this type," said Ewa Moncure, Frontex's spokesman.
"The procedure was calm, everything was orderly. We're doing everything we can to help implement the agreement between the EU and Turkey."
The 1:1 ratio of police to migrants was for "safety", she said, adding: "In our experience, that is how it is done in order to ensure everybody's safety. I don't know if it will be done on every boat."
Two hours after their departure from Lesbos, the ferries arrived in Dikili, where the district authority had set up tents to process the arrivals.
As the first ship docked, a small group of protesters briefly unfurled a banner reading: "Stop deportations."
Led out one by one, the deported migrants disembarked, each accompanied by a police officer as Turkish and European officials looked on.
They were fingerprinted and given a health check upon arrival at Dikili port, before boarding buses waiting inside the port area.
Hundreds of Dikili residents had protested and signed a petition against the migrants returning to their town.
Turkish media had reported that a camp was being built near the town to accommodate the deportees.
"We don't want them here," said 81-year-old Metin Taslak, who was watching the buses leave the port. He added: "They will bring theft and disturbance to our town."
A district official at the port said the returning migrants would be transported to a detention centre in Kirklareli, a town near the Bulgarian border, west of Istanbul. A bus driver confirmed Kirklareli as his destination.
More migrants are expected to be sent to Turkey later this week.
"It will all depend on the return decisions," said Ms Moncure. "You can't return someone (to Turkey) if the process has not been completed."
The European Union signed the controversial accord with Turkey in March in a bid to address what has become the continent's worst migration crisis since the end of the Second World War.
More than a million refugees and migrants arrived by boat last year, most of them in Greece.
Under the agreement, all "irregular migrants" who have arrived since March 20 face being sent back, although the deal calls for each case to be examined individually.
The operation to resettle Syrians in the EU under the one-for-one arrangement also starts today.
Germany expects to take in a first group of about 35 Syrians from Turkey on Monday, the German interior ministry has said.
Several dozen others are expected to arrive in France, Finland and Portugal. (© Daily Telegraph, London)