Brussels / AFP
An enormous and complex logistical operation involving thousands of EU and other officials was launched on Monday to ship migrants from Greece back to Turkey under a controversial accord between Brussels and Ankara. The European Commission estimates it will cost 280 million euros ($320 million) to implement the deal over the next six months. The EU will help Greece to set up the infrastructure and reception capacity in order to carry out registrations, appeals and large-scale return operations.
In the first wave of deportations, around 200 mostly economic migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries were sent back to Turkey aboard chartered Turkish ferries sailing from the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios.
Under the hard-won deal with Ankara, the European Union accepted that for every refugee from war-ravaged Syria being returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian refugee will be resettled directly from Turkey to the EU.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation bloc, appointed senior official Maarten Verwey to act as coordinator for the operation in Greece.
He oversees some 4,000 staff from Greece, other EU member states, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Frontex, Europe’s border control agency.
They comprise border guards, asylum case officers, police officers as well as judges to examine asylum claims and interpreters.
Turkey and Greece have also sent liaison officers to each other’s country. The Commission says 206 escort officers from Frontex were deployed in Greece over the weekend, along with 32 EASO officers. Thirty extra officers are expected by Wednesday.
Frontex received pledges from 21 EU member states to supply 40 readmissions experts and 702 escort officers for the mission. The border agency estimates it will need 50 experts and 1,500 officers. The migrants will stay in so-called hotspots, reception centres on the Greek islands where they are identified and registered, according to the Greek
Migrants sent back to Turkey will either travel by bus through the land border or by boat from the Greek isles, the Commission says. Frontex is operating three ferries, which can each transport several hundred people, and around 10 buses.
Amnesty International has accused Turkey of illegally forcing Syrians to return to their war-torn homeland—proof that Turkey is not a safe country for refugees, it says.
Turkey rejects the charge, insisting it has not changed its open-door policy for Syrian refugees.