The first migrants to be deported from Greece as part of a controversial new EU plan to tackle the migration crisis have landed on Turkish soil.
Three boats carrying 202 people departed in the early hours of the morning from the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios.
Migrants on board the first ferry were escorted ashore by Turkish police in the port town of Dikilion Monday morning, as authorities set up a tarp to prevent gathered media from seeing on board. A second boat docked shortly afterward.
Greek authorities said there were 136 migrants on board the two boats from Lesbos – the majority of them from Pakistan, with others from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India, as well as two Syrians who had returned voluntarily.
The 66 migrants on board the boat from Chios included 42 Afghans, authorities said.
According to Greek officials, the migrants had not applied for asylum. A Turkish official said Turkey has agreed to accept up to 500 migrants per day.
Protesters opposed to the deportations also gathered at Dikili’s port. One held a sign reading: “Refugees welcome. This is your home.”
The migrants are the first to be deported under the auspices of a contentious “one in, one out” deal struck between the European Union and Turkey last month.
Under the terms of the deal, anyone who crosses into Greece illegally after March 20 will be sent back to Turkey.
For every Syrian sent back to Turkey, a vetted Syrian refugee will go from Turkey to Europe to be resettled, although the maximum number is capped at 72,000 people. In return, the EU will give Turkey billions in funding to help it provide for the migrants within its borders, and grant various political concessions.
Speaking to reporters in Dikili on Monday, Mustafa Toprak, governor of Izmir province, revealed that Syrian migrants who are deported to Turkey would not be sent by ship like the first group of deportees, but would be flown to the southern city of Adana.
From there, they would be sent to camps throughout Turkey’s southeast, where the country shares a border with Syria.
“For every Syrian transported by plane to Adana then taken to camps, the same number of Syrians will be sent to Europe,” he said.
The plan was agreed upon last month as Europe struggles to respond to the largest migration crisis since World War II. More than 1 million people made “irregular arrivals” inside Europe’s borders in 2015 alone, many of them displaced bythe Syrian civil war.
About 2.7 million Syrian refugees are registered in Turkey.
Whether the agreement will be successful in stemming the tide of people into the EU remains to be seen, and migrant routes are likely to shift.
A backlog in Greece has built up after its neighbor Macedonia and other countries along the migration path into Western Europe began blocking access to migrants.
The new rules may divert the thousands fleeing their home countries farther west to nations such as Italy.
Thousands of refugees stuck on border as new rules take hold
On Friday, a report released by Amnesty International condemned the EU agreement and said Turkey has been forcibly sending people back to Syria, constituting a violation of international law — something Turkey denies.
The report said it found many cases of large-scale returns from the Turkish province of Hatay, and called it an “open secret in the region.”
“In their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have willfully ignored the simplest of facts: Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s director for Europe and Central Asia.
A statement from the Turkish foreign ministry said the Amnesty International report “does not reflect the truth.”
The statement said that Turkey had been observing an “open door policy” for five years with regard to refugees, and complying with the principle of no returns.