Migrants and refugees on the Greek island of Chios protested Friday a European Union deal that will likely see many of them returned to Turkey. Refugees torn down a razor wire fence surrounding an immigration processing center and marched toward the local port, Reuters said. Several stabbings were also reported.
Under the European Union deal brokered with Turkey in March, migrants and refugees who arrived in Greece after Monday will likely be sent to Turkey if their asylum applications are not accepted. The transfers are slated to start Monday, but Greek and Turkish officials have warned that neither country is ready to carry out the expensive, complicated deal. Many of the 2,300 EU security and migration officials tasked with helping to oversee the operation had yet to arrive in Greece as of Thursday. Turkey is expected to receive more than $3 billion in aid for accepting the refugees, including many Syrians forced from their homeland amid a five-year civil war.
Uncertainty remains over how many refugees will be affected. Human rights advocates have been critical of the deal that seeks to ease Europe's migrant crisis. Such critics argue that forcing people fleeing war and poverty to live in Turkey despite its troubled human rights record and history of violent sectarian clashes is unjust and reflects growing xenophobia across the European Union.
The agreement not only “fails to respect the spirit of international and EU laws, but may amount to trading human beings for political concessions,” Oxfam's migration policy head Sara Tesorieri said.
More than 1 million refugees and migrants seeking asylum arrived in Europe from the Middle East and Africa in 2015. Many arrive on boats departing from Turkey.
At least 1,500 migrants and refugees who arrived on Chios since March 20 were waiting this week to learn more about their future. The refugee processing center, however, only has enough space for 1,000 people. Video circulated by Greek media Friday showed roughly 300 men, women and children walking toward the local port with their belongings in hand in demonstration against the EU-Turkey refugee deal.
Tensions were high after clashes began at the refugee holding center Thursday, when 10 people were injured after some windows were smashed.
“They say they don't want to go back to Turkey and that they are afraid for their safety after yesterday's clashes,” a police official on Chios said. “The police tried to persuade them to return back, but they refused and are now walking to the port of the island.”
Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said Friday the agency will support the EU deal only if “human rights are adhered to.” She said reports about the refugee situation on Chios had become concerning.
“We are very worried about the situation there. Rioting last night left three people with stab injuries,” Fleming said.