More migrants shipped back to Turkey under EU pact
Two groups of migrants have been sent back to Turkey from Greece as part of a controversial EU-Turkey deal aimed at curbing the refugee and migrant flow to Europe.
A ferry carrying 45 male migrants from Pakistan left the Greek island of Lesbos early on Friday before a second ferry was sent to Turkey, bringing the total of deportees to 124, officials told Al Jazeera.
Before the first boat departed from Lesbos, several rights activists plunged into the water close to the small ferry, dangling from the anchor chain and flashing the “V” for victory sign in an attempt to prevent the vessel from leaving.
They were plucked from the water by the Greek coastguard and the ferry eventually left port to transfer the Pakistanis to Dikili in Turkey, ERT television reported.
In the first wave of deportations last Monday, 202 people, mostly from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, were sent back to Turkey from Lesbos and Chios.
Under the EU-Turkey deal, Ankara will take back all refugees and migrants who enter Greece through irregular routes in return for the EU taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey via official immigration channels.
As part of the deal Turkey was also promised more EU money, visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Lesbos, said that a total of 326 people have been sent to Turkey since deportation started.
Greece struggles to implement Turkey-EU refugee deal
“In the same period, there have been 518 new arrivals on Greece’s shores so if the aim of the deal was to stop the flow of illegal migration, it doesn’t seem to be working,” she said.
“There are thousands still locked up in detention centres and they are willing to apply for asylym.”
Harry Fawcett, reporting from Dikili on the Turkish coast, confirmed that the people sent back were from countries other than Syria so were not protected under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal.
He said that due to the uncertainty surrounding their future, an NGO was trying to match up the people lawyers in Turkey who could provide some clarity as to what exactly their rights are.
Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that his country would not implement the agreement unless the EU fulfilled its promises towards Turkey.
Meanwhile, Turkish parliament approved late on Thursday an agreement enabling Ankara to repatriate Pakistani migrants.
Under the EU-Turkey deal, all “irregular migrants” arriving in Greece from Turkey since March 20 face being sent back.
While the operation has been running smoothly, human rights groups feared for the future of asylum seekers.
The groups are worried that Greece would be overwhelmed with potential asylum seekers and authorities would not have the resources to process their applications.
This would mean some refugees would be deported without being able to exercise their right to apply for refuge, according to the groups.
“We need to hold the [European] commission and all EU countries to the vision of a Europe that serves as a global leader on refugee rights,” Judith Sunderland, acting deputy Europe and Central Asia director at US-based Human Rights Watch, said.
“That means repealing this terrible deal with Turkey, and advancing large-scale refugee resettlement, humanitarian visas, and family reunification guided not by migration control but by a commitment to safe and legal alternatives to human smugglers for people who need refuge.”
The EU signed the deal with Turkey as it wrestled with the continent’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, with more than a million people arriving last year.
Thousands of refugees have been detained on Greek islands since the agreement came into effect.
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