Greece announces delay in sending more refugees to Turkey

Greek government informs Ankara that Athens will delay sending of next group of refugees to Turkey until Friday, in line with recent refugee deal between Turkey and EU

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A woman holds her baby moments after disembarking a Greek Coast Guard vessel carrying refugees and migrants at the port of Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos, following a rescue operation at open sea on April 5, 2016.

Greece has postponed the return of the next group of refugees and migrants to Turkey under a deal with the European Union until Friday, a Turkish government official said on Tuesday, with no other deportees expected before then.

A first group of migrants and refugees, mostly Pakistani and Afghan, were shipped back to Turkey on Monday under the deal with the EU, which will see Ankara take back all refugees who cross the Aegean to enter Greece illegally.

Turkey is ready to take in another 200 refugees deported from the Greek islands this week, a senior government official said, as it presses ahead with the EU deal aimed at shutting down the main route for refugees into Europe.

Turkey and EU leaders approved a deal in March intended on halting further refugee flows into Europe, promising visa liberation for Turkish citizens, progress in its EU membership negotiations, and adding an accessory funding to the already spent billions Turkey has provided for the refugees.

"This arrangement will prevent the Aegean Sea being turned into a cemetery for migrants," Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at the parliament of a deal meant to dissuade migrants and refugees from attempting perilous sea crossings.

The first group of returnees were brought from the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios to the Turkish Aegean coastal town of Dikili on Monday. They were then taken in buses escorted by gendarmes to a "reception and removal" centre in a fenced compound in the town of Kirklareli near the Bulgarian border, from where most are expected to be sent back to their home countries.

Altogether, more people arrived on the Greek islands in the 24 hours to Monday morning than were transported to Turkey, Greek authorities said, putting total arrivals at 339.

Those returned from Greece on Monday included 130 Pakistanis, 42 Afghans, as well as nationals of Iran, Congo, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Iraq, Ivory Coast and Somalia, people familiar with an internal European Commission report said.

Davutoglu said a first group of 78 Syrians had been sent to Europe in return as part of the deal. Thirty two went to Germany, 11 to Finland and another 34 were expected to go on Tuesday to the Netherlands, the European Commission report said.

So far, the European Asylum Office (EASO), a partner in implementing the deal, has issued a call for 400 experts and 400 interpreters to help in processing. It expects its presence in Greece to grow quickly in the coming weeks, spokesman Jean-Pierre Schembri said.

Refugees and migrants who arrive on the Greek islands will be screened, registered and identified according to the deal. Those who apply for asylum will undergo "admissibility assessments" - interviews conducted by the Greek authorities and supported by the EASO.

However, a Greek government official acknowledged that facilities were ill-equipped and added that "things will speed up from Thursday" when seventy staff from EASO were due to begin work on Lesbos after being trained in Athens.

TRTWorld and agencies