DIKILI (Turkey): As many as 130 Pakistanis were among 202 migrants piled onto boats from two Greek islands and shipped back to Turkey on Monday as the implementation of a European Union (EU) plan to curb migration began.
Greek authorities said 191 men and 11 women were sent back. They included 130 people from Pakistan, 42 from Afghanistan, 10 from Iran, five from Congo, four from Sri Lanka, three from Bangladesh, three from India, one each from Iraq, Somalia and Ivory Coast, and two Syrians who had asked to be sent back.
Mostly economic migrants were sent aboard chartered Turkish ferries.
However, a few hours after their first boat set sail from Lesbos, Greek coastguard vessels rescued at least two dinghies carrying more than 50 migrants and refugees, including children and a woman in a wheelchair, trying to reach the island. Two groups of mainly Pakistani men, totalling around 100 people, were also intercepted by the Turkish coastguard near Dikili, an official said.
Under heavy security, authorities on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios deported the first people under the plan that has drawn criticism from human rights advocates but is seen by some European countries as the only way to resolve the continent’s migration crisis.
The first vessel from Lesbos was escorted into the port of Dikili by the Turkish coastguard as a helicopter hovered overhead.
The migrants were taken to red-and-white tents for registration and health checks. About a dozen people stood at the port, holding a banner that read ‘Welcome refugees. Turkey is your home.’
That sentiment came in contrast to protests over the weekend by locals who feared that Dikili would turn into a warehouse for refugees.
A second vessel motored in from Lesbos and a third from the nearby island of Chios later.
Those who arrived from Lesbos were sent to a ‘reception and removal centre’ in the Kirklareli province along the Black Sea, according to Turkey’s state-run news service, Anadolu Agency.
It said the Syrians would be placed in refugee camps and other migrants would be deported.
In an address to police officers in Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu urged them to show “compassion” to the returning migrants and said Syrian refugees from camps in Turkey would be sent to Europe.
In the other half of the plan, 16 Syrian refugees from Turkey flew into the German city of Hannover to be resettled and 16 more were expected on a flight later in the day.
Turkish and EU authorities reached a deal last month that says migrants who reach Greece illegally from Turkey after March 20 will be returned unless they qualify for asylum.