Greece on Friday resumed deportations of migrants to Turkey after a four-day pause, despite mounting desperation among refugees and attempts by activists to stop the two boats from leaving Lesbos with 124 people onboard.
Before the first boat left the island, four activists jumped into the sea to try to obstruct the operation – swimming to the front of the chartered ferry and grabbing the anchor chain – and were detained by the coast guard. The second boat made the journey without incident.
The EU-Turkey deal, which aims to deter illegal migration, has faced several setbacks and sharp criticism in its first week of implementation and has left many would-be migrants in limbo along the coast of Turkey.
“There is no legal or adequate way for us to go to Europe so people are either waiting for the boats or turning back to Syria,” says Mohammed, a Syrian who is stranded in the Turkish coastal town of Izmir. “People are shocked and scared.”
Mohammed, who only gave his first name because he might decide to go back to his hometown which is under the control of the Islamic State group, says he told his family to stay put.
“If any Syrian asked me today, ‘should I make the journey?’ I’d say go back and die in your land with honor,” said the scrawny young man. “Europe wants you dead. Turkey wants you dead.”
The deportation of the 124 people on Friday followed the return of 202 migrants earlier this week under the EU-Turkey deal which aims to return migrants who don’t apply for asylum from Greece to Turkey. In exchange, the EU will take in some Syrians directly from Turkey, provide funds for Ankara, visa-free travel for Turks and accelerated EU membership talks.
Officers from the European Union’s border protection agency escorted the migrants to the boats on Lesbos. In the Turkish port of Dikili, health and migration officials checked the passengers amid heavy security before they were whisked onto police-escorted buses heading to a deportation center in Kirklareli province, near the border with Bulgaria.