Greece began deportation of scores of refugees Monday on boats bound to Turkey as part of a controversial deal the European Union made with Turkey to ease the influx of refugees in Europe. The deal, which has been strongly criticized by human rights groups, will see one person from Turkey resettled in Europe for every refugee sent back from Greece. This resettlement and return is feasible up to a limit of 72,000, according to the EU's existing resettlement and relocation commitments.
The first boat that left Lesbos docked in the Turkish town of Dikili Monday. Nearly 200 migrants and refugees left from Lesbos and Chios on board two ferries to nearby ports on the Turkish coast over the Aegean Sea. The migrants were reportedly escorted by officers from the EU border protection agency, Frontex, while Greek riot police squads were also reportedly on board the boats.
"All of the migrants returned are from Pakistan except for two migrants from Syria who returned voluntarily," Giorgos Kyritsis, a spokesman for a government refugee crisis committee, told state TV, according to the Associated Press (AP). "There is no timetable for returns. Examining (asylum) applications will take some time."
Kyritsis also reportedly said that 136 migrants were deported from Lesbos and 66 others left from the nearby island of Chios, where riot police and local residents clashed hours earlier during a protest against expulsions. As the deportation process began, several protesters demonstrated chanting "Shame on you," while some held banners above their vessel which read: "Ferries for safe passage, not for deportation."
Humanitarian groups have criticized the deal saying that it turns Greece into a detention center for people who risked their lives to escape the horrors of their homelands.
"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 AP from Lesbos. "Turkey is not a safe third country for refugees. The EU and Greek authorities know this and have no excuse."
Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala reportedly said that his country is ready to receive 500 refugees Monday and Greek authorities have provided 400 names, although these numbers could change. The deportation was set to begin with migrants who did not apply for asylum or had their applications declared inadmissible.
"Even if this first group is not refugees, what we are seeing here is symbolic kick off of what might be a very dangerous practice of returns to Turkey," Kosmopoulos said, according to AP.
A total of 50,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in Greece following EU and Balkan border closures. Authorities have reportedly detained about 4,000 migrants and refugees on Greek islands since the “one in, one out” deal with Turkey came into effect March 20.