Turkey ready to take 200 more migrants from Greece

World Tuesday 05/April/2016 18:40 PM
By: Times News Service
Turkey ready to take 200 more migrants from Greece

Ankara/Lesbos: Turkey is ready to take another 200 migrants deported from the Greek islands on Wednesday, a senior government official said, as it presses ahead with a disputed EU deal aimed at shutting down the main route for illegal migration into Europe.
A first group of 202 migrants, mostly Pakistani and Afghan, were shipped back to Turkey on Monday under an agreement which will see Ankara take back all migrants and refugees who cross the Aegean to enter Greece illegally.
In return, the European Union will take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and reward it with money, visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.
"This arrangement will prevent the Aegean Sea being turned into a cemetery for migrants," Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in parliament of a deal meant to dissuade migrants from attempting perilous illegal sea crossings.
France acknowledged that its intake of Syrian refugees had been slow and insufficient, but vowed to double efforts to meet commitments in light of a deal agreed between the European Union and Turkey.
"The number of people welcomed is still extremely insufficient compared to our commitments and we will need to redouble our efforts," Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters during a meeting with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The pact has been criticised by refugee agencies and human rights campaigners, who have cast it as inhumane, questioned its legality, and argued Turkey is not a safe country for refugees.
Several dozen migrants being detained at a holding camp on the Greek island of Lesbos protested behind the barbed wire fence of the compound on Tuesday, shouting "We want freedom!"
They were among thousands of refugees and migrants who have arrived on Lesbos on or since March 20 from Turkey and who are being held until their asylum requests are processed and they are accepted or sent back under the deal.
The first group of returnees from Greece were brought from Lesbos and Chios to the Turkey's 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.
"We will take in people through Dikili again tomorrow. We will take in around 200 irregular migrants," the Turkish government official said, declining to be identified because the plans have not yet been made public.
Monday's group 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. There were also two Syrians who had requested a return to Turkey, Turkish officials 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.
Rights groups and some European politicians have challenged the legality of the deal, questioning whether Turkey has sufficient safeguards in place to defend refugees' rights and whether it can be considered safe for them.
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has stopped transporting arrivals to and from the Moria camp on Lesbos, initially set up to register arrivals but which has since become what it calls a "detention centre".
Paris promised in September to take 30,000 refugees over two years after European countries agreed to divide the numbers among themselves. Until now only hundreds have arrived in France compared to thousands in neighbouring Germany.
"We decided to relocate a part of the refugees that are in Greece to France and we want to participate on the implementation of the accord with Turkey," Ayrault said.
"Germany has started, but we will also do it. We will meet our commitments, but you need time. We have numbered commitments, (but) we have fallen a little behind."
Through barbed wire at the camp, one man held up a piece of cardboard, which read: "Kill us if you want."
On the wall of the sprawling gated complex, which was once an army camp, graffiti read: 'No one is illegal'.
UNHCR says there are some 600 people above capacity at Moria, including pregnant women, lactating mothers and children, with insufficient food. Other aid groups have also pulled out from the site in protest at conditions there.
Meanwhile, German police said there were almost 300 attacks and other criminal offences against German asylum shelters in the first quarter of the year, which suggests the 2016 total could exceed last year's level.
The arrival of more than one million migrants into Germany last year has prompted a significant rise in attacks against asylum shelters. They reached 1,029 last year, compared with 199 in 2014 and 69 in 2013.
Of the 292 offenses registered in the first quarter - more than three attacks a day on average - 33 were arson attacks, 59 were acts of violence, and one was an explosion, police said.
The rest were damage to property and propaganda offences, police added.