Despite a European Union-Turkey deal on refugees reached last week that came into effect Sunday, boats carrying refugees fleeing conflict and repressive states continued to arrive in Greece. Local officials said at least 12 boats had arrived by 6 a.m. local time, Reuters reported.
Greek officials said approximately 875 people had arrived in the last 24 hours. A reporter for Al Jazeera witnessed at least five boats carrying approximately 30 refugees each arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos after the midnight deal deadline Sunday and said the majority of the arrivals were Syrians fleeing their country’s five-year-old civil war.
Under the deal reached between Turkey and the EU, all refugees who illegally cross into Greece by sea will be sent back to Turkey after they are registered and their asylum claims are processed. In exchange, the EU will accept Syrian refugees from Turkey. European leaders have argued the deal is aimed at clamping down on illegal and dangerous people smuggling operations. As part of the deal, Turkey will also receive more funding from the EU as well as early visa-free travel as Ankara continues negotiations on EU membership.
Approximately 1,500 people made the dangerous Mediterranean crossing Friday before the deal’s deadline. Human rights groups have criticized the deal as failing to protect the human rights of refugees and have questioned its legality. Greece has so far delayed sending refugees back to Turkey, saying officials need more time to implement arrangements under the deal. Greek officials said April 4 was a more realistic date to begin implementation.
During his Palm Sunday service at the Vatican, Pope Francis criticized leaders who have tried to prevent refugees from entering their countries.
“I am thinking of so many other people, so many marginalized people, so many asylum seekers, so many refugees. There are so many who don't want to take responsibility for their destiny,” the leader of the Catholic Church said Sunday, Reuters reported.
More than 1.1 million refugees entered Europe in 2015, many fleeing conflicts in states such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 154,000 refugees have arrived in Europe by sea so far in 2016, according to the International Organization for Migration.