Police on the Greek island of Lesbos have starting putting refugees on boats bound for Turkey, the first people to be deported under a European Union plan to stem the flow of refugees to Europe.
The deal to send people back across the Aegean Sea has been criticised by rights groups on ethical grounds.
Despite the serious legal gaps and lack of adequate protection in Turkey, the EU is forging ahead with a dangerous deal
Giorgos Kosmopoulos, head of Amnesty International in Greece
News agency witnesses reported seeing two boats set sail after police boarded people who had arrived on buses.
The AFP news agency on Monday said two Turkish ferries on Lesbos and another one on Chios were to pick up the refugees, and that they would be escorted by police from the EU border agency Frontex.
Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala has said his country is ready to receive 500 refugees on Monday and Greek authorities have provided 400 names, although these numbers could change.
The European Union signed the deal with Turkey in March as it wrestles with the continent’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, with more than a million people arriving last year.
Under the agreement, designed to halt new arrivals along the most popular route through Turkey, all “irregular migrants” arriving since March 20 face being sent back. Each case is meant to be examined individually.
About 4,000 refugees were being detained on Greek islands since the agreement came into effect.
For every Syrian refugee returned, another Syrian refugee will be resettled from Turkey to the EU, with the numbers capped at 72,000.
The deal was heavily criticised by human rights organisations.
“This is the first day of a very difficult time for refugee rights. Despite the serious legal gaps and lack of adequate protection in Turkey, the EU is forging ahead with a dangerous deal,” Giorgos Kosmopoulos, head of Amnesty International in Greece, told the AP news agency from Lesbos.
“Turkey is not a safe third country for refugees. The EU and Greek authorities know this and have no excuse.”