First migrants sent back on boats from Greek islands arrive in Turkey

More than 200 migrants sent back to Turkey under a deal reached between Ankara and the European Union arrived Monday in the western Turkish port town of Dikili.

Meanwhile, the first Syrian asylum seekers to enter the EU legally directly from Turkey landed in Hanover, Germany.

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

The blue-and-white Nazli Jale, which was the first of three vessels carrying migrants from the Greek Aegean islands, docked at Dikili a little before schedule.

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.

Following the Nazli Jale, a smaller, white vessel docked at the port, also from the Greek island of Lesbos.

Dikili, a small town about a two-hour drive north of Izmir, is a popular summer holiday spot for Turks. Fishermen readying their nets at the port before the arrivals, pointed to several dozen people who they said were migrants caught by the coast guard in the early morning while trying to reach Greece.

Greek emergency officials said that the two boats from Lesbos had 136 migrants on board. The vessels were accompanied by the Turkish coast guard, 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.

Turkish authorities and the EU's Frontex border force boarded the boats, on which people wearing face masks could also be seen.

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.

In Dikili, meanwhile, several protesters unfurled a banner that read "stop deportations." But the situation remained calm.

When the second vessel docked, protesters held up signs that read, "no to racism, "refugees welcome," and "EU started the biggest official human trafficking of human history."

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.

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 deal targets human traffickers by sending back anyone reaching Europe by these means and giving them little hope of later receiving asylum in the EU.

For every migrant sent back to Turkey, one Syrian refugee will be directly taken from Turkey and resettled in Europe.

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

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