Dasha Afanasieva and Karolina Tagaris, Reuters, April 4, 2016
The first migrants deported from Greek islands under a disputed EU-Turkey deal were shipped back to Turkey on Monday in a drive to shut down the main route used by more than a million people fleeing war and poverty to reach Europe in the last year.
Under a pact criticised by refugee agencies and human rights campaigners, Ankara will take back all migrants and refugees who cross the Aegean to enter Greece illegally, including Syrians.
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.
The EU-Turkey deal aims to discourage migrants from perilous crossings, often in small boats and dinghies, and to break the business model of human smugglers who have fuelled Europe’s biggest influx since World War Two.
EU authorities said none of those deported on Monday had requested asylum in Greece and all had left voluntarily. They included two Syrians who had asked to return to Turkey.
European Commission spokesman Margaritas Schinas said the first returns were legal, even though Turkey has not yet made changes to its regulations that the EU said were necessary at the time of the deal.
The EU said at the time of the deal that Ankara would need to change asylum laws to give international protection to Syrians who enter from countries other than Syria, and to non-Syrian asylum seekers returned from Greece.
Under the pact, the EU will resettle thousands of legal Syrian refugees directly from Turkey.
German police said the first 32 Syrian refugees arrived in Hanover on two flights from Istanbul on Monday under the deal. The European Commission said more flights were due in Finland on Monday and the Netherlands on Tuesday.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Sunday that the “high point of the migrant crisis is behind us”, but migration experts say the pressure to reach Europe will continue, possibly via other routes.