Europe ready for migrant swap as Turkey runs behind on arrival camp

European countries are prepared to begin swapping migrants between the European Union (EU) and Turkey next week, while Turkey's planned accommodation for the returning arrivals doesn't appear to be ready for a large inflow.

A deal struck between the EU and Turkey in March foresees the large-scale return of asylum seekers from the Greek islands to Turkey starting Monday and, in return, Syrian refugees will be directly taken from Turkey and resettled in Europe.

Returnees are meant to be sent to Dikili, in western Turkey, just north of Izmir, where the country is planning to build a facility for those returning.

It seems that so far the country is not yet ready to take back large numbers of arrivals, with one eyewitness confirming to dpa by telephone that the site where the camp is meant to be built is still an empty, grassy field.

Several hundred residents of Dikili were protesting Saturday against the government's plans, as they are against the people being held in their community.

Under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal, people who reached the Greek islands after March 20 and fail to qualify for asylum will be returned to Turkey, in addition to so-called economic migrants - people from countries whose citizens are not generally deemed to be in need of international protection - who are already being returned.

The Greek Coastguard and the EU border agency Frontex have developed a plan to move 750 asylum seekers from the Greek island of Lesbos to Dikili between Monday and Wednesday, news agency ANA-MPA reported Saturday.

The plan will use two Turkish ships beginning 10 am (0700 GMT) on Monday, the report said, and one police officer will escort each person who is being deported, as many migrants have refused to be deported back to Turkey.

Meanwhile, European countries were preparing to accept their new Syrian arrivals.

The Netherlands is expecting the first refugees to enter the country legally and directly from Turkish refugee camps on Monday or Tuesday, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry said, without giving a number.

The number of migrants reaching Greece hasn't dramatically dropped, despite the approaching swap date.

In the last 24 hours, 566 migrants reached the Greek islands, Greek migration authorities said Saturday morning.

On Friday, 339 people arrived, and on Thursday 377.

The authorities also said there are more than 52,000 migrants stranded in Greece, after the so-called Balken route - the main path through south-eastern Europe for migrants hoping to reach wealthier northern European countries - was shut down as countries downstream from Greece on the route started closing their borders.

Closing the route has had an impact on the number of migrants reaching Germany, which registered 2 million migrants last year alone.

In March, about 20,000 refugees were registered in Germany, compared with 61,428 in February and 91,671 in January, well-informed sources told dpa.

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

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