EU-Turkey deal fails to stem refugee flight to Greece

The Pak Banker - - 6BUSINESS -

LES­BOS: They waved, cheered and smiled, elated to have made it to Europe at dawn on Sun­day in a packed blue rubber mo­tor boat. The 50 or so refugees and mi­grants were among the first to ar­rive on the Greek is­land of Les­bos on day one af­ter an EU deal with Turkey de­signed to close the route by which a mil­lion peo­ple crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece in 2015.

Ex­hausted but re­lieved, the new ar­rivals wrapped their wet feet in ther­mal blan­kets as vol­un­teers handed out dry clothes and sup­plies.

Reuters wit­nesses saw three boats ar­rive within an hour in dark­ness in the early hours of Sun­day. Two men were pulled out un­con­scious from one of the boats amid the screams of fel­low pas­sen­gers and were later pro­nounced dead.

Twelve boats had ar­rived on the shore­line near the air­port by 6 a.m. (0400 GMT), a po­lice of­fi­cial said.

Un­der the Euro­pean Union deal with Turkey, all mi­grants and refugees, in­clud­ing Syr­i­ans, who cross to Greece il­le­gally by sea from Sun­day will be sent back to Turkey once they are reg­is­tered and their asy­lum claims have been pro­cessed.

In re­turn, the EU will take in thou­sands of Syr­ian refugees di­rectly from Turkey and re­ward it with more money, early visafree travel and progress in its EU mem­ber­ship ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Among the ar­rivals on the sea­weed strewn beach on the south of Les­bos was Syr­ian Hus­sein Ali Muham­mad, whose stud­ies were in­ter­rupted af­ter the war be­gan. He said he wanted to go to Den­mark to con­tinue univer­sity. Asked if he was aware of the Euro­pean de­ci­sion, he said:

"I know that. I hope to cross th­ese bor­ders. I hope I com­plete my stud­ies here (in Europe), just this. I don't want money, I just want to com­plete my stud­ies. This is my mes­sage."

Muhammed, who worked odd jobs in Turkey to pay a smug­gler to bring him across, said he did not want to go back.

"I worked very, very hard in Turkey, I col­lected the money to come here ... It's very dan­ger­ous and not good."

An­other ar­rival, 30-year-old com­puter en­gi­neer Mo­hammed from Daraa in Syria, said he hoped to stay in Greece un­til he found a way to be re­united with his wife and son in Ger­many.

"I know the de­ci­sion. I hope to (meet with) my wife and chil­dren," he said.

The re­turns to Turkey are due to be­gin on April 4, as would re­set­tle­ment of Syr­ian refugees in Europe.

Doubts re­main about whether the deal is le­gal or work­able. It was not clear what would hap­pen to the tens of thou­sands of mi­grants and refugees al­ready in Greece.

Au­thor­i­ties in Les­bos be­gan re­mov­ing refugees and mi­grants from the is­land on Satur­day to make space for new ar­rivals. The is­land has a ca­pac­ity to host 3,500 peo­ple at a place set up to reg­is­ter ar­rivals.

At least 144,000 peo­ple, mostly Syr­i­ans, Iraqis and Afghans, have ar­rived in Greece so far in 2016 ac­cord­ing to U.N. refugee agency data. About 60 per­cent were women and chil­dren.

Of those peo­ple, more than half landed on Les­bos, the is­land on the front­line of Europe's big­gest mi­gra­tion cri­sis since World War Two. Some 1,150 peo­ple a day con­tin­ued to ar­rive in Greece from Turkey this month.

Few, if any, had planned to stay in the coun­try, seek­ing in­stead a route to north­ern Europe where more sup­port and jobs are avail­able than in Greece, which is in the grip of an eco­nomic cri­sis. But bor­der clo­sures along the main route north through the Balkans have meant at least 47,000 peo­ple are stranded in Greece, in camps and ports across the coun­try. More than 10,500 peo­ple re­main at a squalid tent camp near the Mace­do­nian bor­der hop­ing to cross.

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