EU takes on first migrant resettlements after boats dock in Turkey

More than 200 migrants were sent back to Turkey from Greece Monday and the first Syrian refugees have been resettled to the European Union in return, marking the launch of a contested migrant deal between Ankara and the bloc.

In total, 43 Syrians were being resettled out of Turkey on Monday, the European Commission said.

Thirty-two Syrian asylum seekers became the first people to enter the EU legally directly from Turkey after their plane landed in Hanover. The German Interior Ministry said that priority had been placed on children and families.

The Finnish Interior Ministry said 11 Syrian asylum seekers, comprising three families, arrived by plane at Helsinki airport on Monday.

The Syrians have been taken to a reception centre, pending a decision on where in Finland they will be settled, a spokeswoman for the Finnish Immigration Service told dpa.

Another group is expected to leave for the Netherlands on Tuesday, the commission said.

The governor of Turkey's Izmir province, Mustafa Toprak, confirmed that three boats with a total of 202 migrants had reached the western port town of Dikili, adding that there were no Syrians on board.

Those being returned from Greece to Turkey on Monday are all migrants who have not requested asylum in Greece, according to the commission, the EU's executive.

Each migrant, carrying one or two bags, was accompanied by Turkish officials to three registration tents just off the jetty. Health, security and immigration officials were also present.

Dikili, a small town about a two-hour drive north of Izmir, is a popular summer holiday spot for Turks.

Greek emergency officials said that two boats from Lesbos had 136 migrants on board. The vessels were accompanied by the Turkish Coastguard, while a police helicopter circled above.

A third vessel with 66 migrants on board set sail from the Greek island of Chios for the Turkish coastal town of Cesme, but this boat eventually docked in Dikili.

There were only men on board, mainly migrants from Pakistan and North African countries who have no right to asylum, a Greek official said.

Once processed at Dikili, the migrants were being sent on buses to holding centres. Turkish media reported that some of them would be taken to detention facilities in Edirne, north-western Turkey, near the border with Greece and Bulgaria.

Those centres were built several years ago when the land route from Turkey to EU countries was still open.

No further returns were expected on Monday, a Greek police spokeswoman said. "First the registered asylum applications must be dealt with," she told reporters on Lesbos.

Additional asylum experts from other EU countries were needed to do this, the spokeswoman said.

Under the deal struck between the EU and Turkey last month, migrants who arrived in Greece after March 20 who do not apply for asylum or fail to qualify will be returned to Turkey.

The agreement - the EU's latest attempt to tackle an influx of migrants and asylum seekers largely triggered by the war in Syria - has been severely criticized by rights groups.

Charity Oxfam said in a statement Monday: "The return of people from Greece to Turkey takes Europe yet another step closer to a policy of deterrence and indifference.

"Instead of coming together to resolve the crisis, European countries have built fences and shifted a humanitarian crisis away from its door."

Last year, more than 1 million people arrived on EU shores - the majority of them crossing from Turkey to Greece's Aegean islands with the help of a network of migrant smugglers operating out of Turkey.

The scheme aims to "replace disorganized, chaotic, irregular and dangerous migratory flows by organized, safe and legal pathways to Europe for those entitled to international protection," the commission said in a statement.

The EU has promised to take in one Syrian refugee living in Turkey for every migrant returned to that country from Greece, up to a total of 72,000.

The European Commission could not say when Syrian asylum seekers would start being sent back to Turkey, noting that this would not happen before Ankara has passed legislation guaranteeing that it will protect them in line with international law.

It could also take several weeks to process and reject the asylum requests and appeals of Syrians in Greece so they can be returned to Turkey, an EU source said on condition of anonymity.

Member states have also pledged to take in asylum seekers who arrived in Greece and fellow frontline country Italy prior to March 20. So far, 581 people have been relocated, under a scheme intended to cover 160,000 asylum seekers overall.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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