Turkey’s Coast Guard detained on Saturday a total of 63 Palestinians and Syrians while attempting to cross to a Greek island, underscoring the level of the security forces’ task in convincing illegal migrants they won’t be allowed into the EU.
The group stopped on Saturday was trying to cross to the Greek Island of Lesbos from the Turkish town of Dikili on the Aegean coast. The men, women and children were seen sitting in a white tent, shielding their faces, with dozens of orange life jackets piled outside.
Migrants protested on a Greek island and rights groups raised legal objections on Friday before a controversial European Union deal to return rejected asylum seekers to Turkey was due to go into action on April 4.
Police reported hundreds of migrants and refugees on the island of Chios tearing through a razor wire fence surrounding their holding center and setting off for the port in protest against planned deportation.
Some refugees waved Turkish flags, and a few chanted: “We don’t want to see dead babies’ bodies on our seaside.”
“They say that they don’t want to go back to Turkey and that they are afraid for their safety after yesterday’s clashes between migrants in the hot spot,” a police official said, using the EU term for registration centers that have become detention camps.
Disagreement over how to deal with hundreds of thousands of migrants from Syria and elsewhere threatens to tear the 28-nation EU apart, making the deal with Turkey critical to resolving the crisis.
Turkey agreed last month to take back all migrants and refugees who crossed informally into Greece after March 20 in exchange for financial aid, visa-free travel for Turks and slightly accelerated bloc-membership talks.
Thousands of migrants are still attempting the dangerous sea crossing, although arrivals have slowed. More than 1,900 people have reached Greece so far this week despite poor weather conditions, and a total of 5,622 have registered since March 20.
With Turkish authorities silent on their plans, uncertainty remained over how many will be sent back, how they will be processed and where they will be housed.
Some were expected to pass through Dikili, returning from Lesbos, one of the closest Greek islands to Turkey. No preparations were visible in the town, and no area dedicated to holding them was reserved.
In September, the photograph of the body of 3-year old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi found washed up on a Turkish beach sparked global outrage at the perceived inaction of developed nations in helping refugees, many of whom have fled Syria’s four-year civil war.
More than a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond have poured into Europe in the last year, most ending up in Germany, triggering a political backlash and pitting EU governments against each other.
However, the U.N. refugee agency and rights group Amnesty International raised objections, with Amnesty accusing Turkey of sending thousands of people trying to flee Syria back into the war-racked country in recent months.