Turkey welcomes refugees from Greece under EU agreement

Turkey welcomes refugees from Greece under European Union agreement aimed at stopping refugees from illegally entering Europe

A ferry carrying migrants from Greece to Turkey leaves the island of Lesbos, Monday, April 4, 2016,

Updated Apr 5, 2016

Ankara on Monday began to return refugees from the island of Lesbos to Turkey, with the aim of lessening the influx of refugees into Europe.

Under the EU-Turkey deal, Ankara will welcome refugees from Greece into Turkey as the EU takes Syrian refugees from Turkey into EU countries in exchange.

The deal also pledges visa-free travel in the EU's Schengen Area for Turkish citizens, which is set to be sped up, along with the advance of Turkey’s EU membership negotiations. In addition the EU will also send aid to help cover the billions of euros Turkey has spent on refugees over the past six years.

As the sun rose over the Aegean Sea early on Monday, two Turkish boats hired by Frontex carried 131 refugees from Lesbos to the metropolitan city of Izmir in western Turkey.

The refugees were accompanied by European Union officials while Greek police also boarded the boats.

Ewa Moncure, spokeswoman for the EU border agency Frontex, said the returnees were primarily from Pakistan and Bangladesh, while Syrians were to be transferred at a later time.

There are plans to return refugees from the nearby island of Chios as well, Moncure said.

Immigration officials in Turkey will continue the process of settling refugees in safety once they arrive at the Dikili (Izmir) readmission centre.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that across Greece numerous aspects of the system for receiving and dealing with people were still either not working or absent.

Some 5,600 refugees have been registered on the Greek islands since March 20, the date on which the agreement with Turkey went into effect.

The Turkish deputy prime minister last month said that the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey had exceeded 2.7 million, more than in any other country according to UN records.

European countries have so far failed to carry out even the most modest plans to tackle the crisis by resettling refugees.

EU diplomats have widely resisted a plan to eventually redistribute 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to the rest of the EU.

Just 1,100 have been relocated so far out of that number, leading critics to say a mockery is being made of the principles of European solidarity and humanitarianism.

The EU is expected to reform its asylum system following the agreement with Turkey.

Refugees are pictured at a Turkish coast guard station as Turkey welcomes them from Greek island of Lesbos, in the Turkish city of Izmir, Turkey, April 4, 2016.

TRTWorld and agencies