EU sends migrants in Greece back to Turkey

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By Mehmet Guzel and Derek Gatopoulos ,AP

DIKILI, Turkey – A controversial European Union plan to curb migration and smash smuggling rings in Turkey began Monday as 202 migrants from two Greek islands were piled onto boats heading back to Turkey.

Under heavy security, authorities on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios began the deportations — the first in a plan that has drawn strong criticism from human rights advocates but is seen by some European nations as the only way to resolve the continent’s migration crisis.

The first vessel from Lesbos was escorted into the Turkish port of Dikili by the Turkish coast guard as a Turkish helicopter hovered overhead. The migrants were taken to red-and-white tents for registration and health checks.

About a dozen people stood at the port holding a banner that read “Welcome refugees. Turkey is your home.” That came in sharp contrast to protests by locals over the weekend who feared that Dikili would turn into a warehouse for refugees.

A second vessel motored in from Lesbos and a third from Chios. Authorities said most of the people in the first batch were Pakistanis. They were loaded onto buses.

Those who arrived from Lesbos were sent to “reception and removal center” in the northwestern Kirklareli province on the Black Sea, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency. It said Syrians would be placed in refugee camps and other migrants would be deported.

In an address to police officers in Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu urged them to show “compassion” to the returning migrants and said Syrian refugees from camps in Turkey would be sent to Europe now as part of the plan.

Defying the new plan, over 330 people still crossed over to Greece from Turkey in smuggling boats Monday morning, according to Greek authorities.

Turkey and the European Union reached a deal last month that says migrants who reach Greece illegally from Turkey after March 20 will be returned to Turkey unless they qualify for asylum. For every Syrian turned back, a Syrian refugee is to be resettled from Turkey to the EU.

In Germany, 16 Syrian refugees from Turkey landed in the central city of Hannover on Monday to be resettled and 16 more were expected on a flight later in the day.