Thursday 22 February 2018

A new dawn, a new law - but still migrant boats come and lives are lost at sea

The sun rises as migrants and refugees on a dingy arrive at the shore of the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey. Photo: AP
The sun rises as migrants and refugees on a dingy arrive at the shore of the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey. Photo: AP
A girl is covered with a blanket after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos. Photo: Reuters

Mathew Holehouse and Zia Weise

Two migrants have been found dead on a boat that arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos on the first day of the implementation of an agreement between the EU and Turkey on handling new arrivals.

Medical personnel tried to revive the two men but failed.

The overcrowded boat was carrying dozens of migrants from Turkey on the first day for the implementation of the migration agreement. It stipulates how new arrivals from Turkey will be processed and returned.

About 2,500 migrants on Lesbos and other islands are being taken to mainland Greece where they are placed in shelters before EU-wide relocation.

But the Greek authorities admitted they had no idea how the system, which will see an army of 4,000 officials and soldiers deployed, will be put into action.

Under an agreement that came into force yesterday, all migrants who land on the holiday islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios and Kos will be banned from travelling on to Athens, but rather interviewed, have their asylum claims heard by officials or judges, and returned to Turkey within days.

On Saturday, thousands of migrants on the islands who arrived under the old system were evacuated by ferry Kavala on the mainland.

Yet by six o'clock yesterday morning 12 small boats had landed on Lesbos from Turkey.

Among the arrivals was Hussein Ali Muhammad, a Syrian whose studies were interrupted after the war began. He said he wanted to go to Denmark to continue university. Asked if he was aware of the European decision, he said: "I know that. I hope to cross these borders. I hope I complete my studies."

He had worked odd jobs in Turkey to pay for a smuggler. "I collected the money to come here. It's very dangerous and not good."

Mohammed, a 30-year-old computer engineer from Daraa, said he was determined to reach Greece in order to be reunited with his wife and son in Germany. "I know the decision," he said.

Under the EU plan, reception centres on the islands will be converted into detention camps, run by the Greek army, with beds for 20,000 people.

Offices will be built from 190 shipping containers. Some 600 asylum officers from Greece and EU states, aided by 400 interpreters, will interview migrants to assess whether they have a right to asylum, and if so, whether they can be sent to claim it in Turkey rather than the EU. Those who appeal will be taken before one of 10 make-shift tribunals, staffed by 30 Greek and 30 foreign judges.

Under the plan, almost all will be deported, by a taskforce of 250 Greek police, 1,500 foreign police and 50 EU experts in deportation. The Greek army will provide 1,000 soldiers for security, with migrants loaded from 28 buses onto a squadron of eight ferries.

Deportations are due to start on April 4, allowing for changes in Greek asylum law.

"We still don't know how the deal will be implemented in practice," a police source on the island of Lesbos said.

"Above all, we are waiting for the staff Europe promised to be able to quickly process asylum applications - translators, lawyers, police officers - because we cannot do it alone." (©Telegraph and agencies)

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