Chaos reigns as Greece due to deport hundreds of migrants
Confusion over how expulsions will work, while preparations unfinished
Published 04/04/2016 | 02:30
Confusion reigned in Greece yesterday as the EU plan to ship hundreds of refugees and migrants back to Turkey was due to begin today.
There was uncertainty on both sides of the Aegean Sea as to how the expulsions would work and how strong resistance would be among asylum seekers.
In the first phase of a grand EU plan that is meant to staunch the unprecedented influx of asylum seekers into Europe, Turkey said it was prepared to accept up to 500 refugees from the Greek island of Lesbos, where hundreds of thousands have landed in the past 12 months.
The refugees and migrants were due to be taken on two ferries from Lesbos's main port, Mytilini, to the Turkish resort town of Dikili, just across the strait that divides the two countries.
Each ferry will reportedly carry 50 migrants and 50 policemen and will make several trips.
"We have prepared for 500 people to come on Monday. We are making our plans and putting in place our capacities," said Efkan Ala, the Turkish interior minister.
"We have been in touch with the Greek authorities and said we could take 500 people and they have given us 400 names. Tomorrow it's possible that this figure could change."
Under the plan, announced last month by Brussels, Turkey will send one Syrian refugee to Europe in exchange for each one it takes back from Greece.
But there was no sign of either of the ships in Mytilini's port yesterday evening, and humanitarian groups said they had been given very little information about how many migrants would be deported and what nationality they would be.
"Refugees are coming up to us asking, 'What shall I do, what is going to happen?'" said Jonas Hagensen of Medecins Sans Frontieres. "The camps are very overstretched."
In the main migrant holding centre on Lesbos, near the village of Moria, there were 2,800 people crammed into a facility that has a capacity of 2,000.
Around 100 people had gone on hunger strike, Mr Hagensen said, placing their food rations by the perimeter fence in protest at being forcibly detained.
British charity Save the Children said conditions inside the camp were "deplorable", with many families sleeping in the open due to a lack of tents.
"People have told us they will commit suicide if they are sent back to Turkey. Some said they will jump off the boats," said the charity's Simona Mortolini.
Humanitarian organisations have called the deportation plan illegal and inhumane.
In Dikili, the Turkish port where the refugees will be sent, the authorities were putting up reception facilities for the deportees. But work seemed to have barely started.
Two tents had been set up in the harbour as a reception centre and two portable toilets were installed nearby. Meanwhile, cows grazed on the empty field set aside for the construction of a refugee camp.
Further south, four small blue tents were set up in the town of Cesme for those sent back from the Greek island of Chios. (© Daily Telegraph, London)