First migrants leave from Greece as EU-Turkey deal comes into force

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(London Post)    Authorities have begun prepping migrants for departure on the Greek island of Lesbos. It’s the beginning of a controversial plan to stem the flow of refugees to Europe, one some view as illegal.

Refugees and migrants on Monday morning were being loaded onto buses and shipped to Lesbos, where they were then being placed on ferries bound for Turkey.

The first group of people who will be sent back across the Aegean Sea as part of a deal reached by Brussels and Ankara, 135 migrants, were escorted onto one of two Turkish leisure vessels by officers of the EU border protection agency Frontex.

Activists at the scene reportedly chanted slogans and unfurled a banner in opposition to the move.

Ankara said it was prepared to receive around 500 migrants on Monday. The government had been working on setting up reception centers in Dikili for the newly arrived foreigners as late as Sunday.

Another Turkish vessel was also waiting for migrants on the Greek island of Chios, site of violence this weekend when riots broke out among refugees living in the crowded camp there.

Türkisches Passagierschiff LESVOSThis ferry took the first group of people on Monday morning

‘One for one’

Under the stipulations of the agreement, which went into effect on March 20, Turkey will accept rejected migrants from the EU, which in turn will accept from Turkey one Syrian asylum seeker for every Syrian it sends back. The EU has capped the number of Syrians it is willing to take in at 72,000.

The EU-Turkey agreement has drawn criticism from all sides, including European countries like Austria, which has cast doubt on the effectiveness of the plan. The UN has also criticized the plan, citing the illegality of mass deportations without the right to claim asylum.

A UN refugee agency spokesman told AFP news agency there had been a spike in the number of visa applications in Greece.

“We…have over two thousand people that have stated their wish to seek asylum and we need to see a credible process go ahead with the Greek asylum service for those that wish to express their protection concerns,” Boris Cheshirkov said.

Germany is expecting to take in its first group of Syrians from Turkey later on Monday.

Around 4,000 migrants have been detained on the Greek islands since the deal was reached.

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