London/Athens: Smugglers based in Turkey are offering to take migrants to Italy instead of Greece where they are likely to be deported under a deal between the Ankara government and European Union, according to a newspaper report.
The Guardian said on Thursday that smugglers had used Facebook to advertise a boat trip to Italy from the Turkish port of Mersin - at a cost of $4,000 per person, four times the price of a journey from Turkey to Greece.
"The trip is on Saturday, from Mersin to Italy, on a merchant ship 110 metres long, equipped with food, water, life jackets and medicine," the Guardian quoted the post as saying.
The advert, which was no longer visible on Facebook on Friday, appeared after Turkey agreed with the EU this month to return migrants and refugees who cross illegally to Greece in exchange for financial aid, faster visa-free travel for Turks and slightly accelerated EU membership talks.
The returns are supposed to begin on April 4 under the plan, which aims to close the main route by which a million migrants and refugees poured across the Aegean Sea to Greece in the last year before heading north mainly to Germany and Sweden.
A Facebook official told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the company was investigating the origins of advertisement.
In the past two years scores of would-be migrants seeking to escape conflict in the Middle East have used Facebook as their compass for finding the people smugglers they hope will lead them to a better life in Europe.
However, many of these migrants end up being tricked by people posing as smugglers, the Guardian said.
The United Nations called on Friday for legal safeguards to be in place before refugees are returned to Turkey under the agreement with the EU, while warning that conditions in Greece are deteriorating.
Meanwhile, hundreds of migrants and refugees on the Greek island of Chios tore down part of the razor wire fence surrounding their holding centre on Friday and began walking to the port in protest, police officials said.
About 1,500 migrants and refugees who arrived on Chios since March 20 were being held at the facility.
Video clips on Greek websites showed dozens of migrants and refugees, many of them women and children, carrying their belongings and walking along the tree-lined road to the port.
A police spokesman for the northern Aegean region to which Chios belongs said about 300 people had left the centre.
Clashes broke out at the site late on Thursday, during which windows were smashed and 10 people were injured lightly, another police official said.
Austria and its neighbours in central Europe and the Balkans will press the European Union to create a new auxiliary force to help countries deal with any influx of migrants, Austria's defence minister said on Friday.
Austria has suggested setting up a "bridging mission" that would help EU border agency Frontex process and deport migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey until Frontex is fully staffed there, which Vienna has said could take months.
Meeting defence and other officials from the region in Vienna on Thursday, Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil said those present backed a modified version of that concept, which could be sent to Greece or elsewhere.
"It is... a mixed civil-police-military mission that should be deployed where necessary," Doskozil said, adding the aim was to help secure the European Union's external borders and deport migrants not entitled to stay in the bloc.
Doskozil said those present - including EU members Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Croatia - would send a letter detailing the proposal to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini ahead of an EU defence ministers' meeting on April 19.