3 April 2016 (FRANCE24) – Migrants waving signs that read “We want freedom” protested on the Greek island of Chios on Sunday, a day before a controversial EU deal that will see hundreds of people deported back to Turkey was due to come into effect.
An estimated 750 people will be sent back to Turkey between Monday and Wednesday as part of the first wave of deportations under the EU deal, Greece’s state news agency ANA reported.
Under the terms of the much-criticised agreement, all newcomers who arrived in Greece after the March 20 deadline are liable to be deported if they fail to apply for asylum or if their request is rejected.
The demonstration came after hundreds of migrants on Chios tore through a razor fence surrounding their detention centre on Friday, camping out at the port in protest against the planned expulsions.
Clashes also broke out at the site late on Thursday, during which windows were smashed and 10 people were lightly injured, according to a police official.
“They say that they don’t want to go back to Turkey and that they are afraid for their safety after yesterday’s clashes between migrants in the hotspot,” the official said on Friday, using an EU euphemism for what have basically become detention centres.
The tension on Chios has raised fears of further unrest less than 24 hours before the deportations are due to begin. It is also still unclear how and where the operation will take place.
“Planning is in progress,” said George Kyritsis, a Greek government spokesman for the migration crisis.
Turkey’s interior minister, Efkan Ala, was quoted by the pro-government newspaper Aksam as saying 500 people were expected in Turkey from Greece on Monday. Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis would be deported to their countries, he said.
Although arrivals have slowed, 514 migrants crossed from Turkey to the Greek islands on Sunday morning. Overall, more than 6,000 have registered since the March deadline.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and human rights groups have denounced the EU deal as lacking legal safeguards.
Amnesty International has called it “a historic blow to human rights” and said it would send a delegation to Chios and nearby Lesbos on Monday to monitor the situation.
“We feel there’s still gaps in both countries that need to be addressed,” said UNHCR’s spokesman on Lesbos, Boris Cheshirkov, referring to Greece and Turkey.
“We’re not opposed to returns as long as people are not in need of international protection, they have not applied for asylum and human rights are adhered to,” he added.
More than 3,300 migrants and refugees are on Lesbos, Greece’s third-biggest island and home to many Greek refugees who fled Turkey in the 1920s.
About 2,800 people are held at the Moria centre, a sprawling complex of prefabricated containers, 800 more than its stated capacity. Of those, 2,000 have made asylum claims, UNHCR says.
Aid agencies have pulled out of the Lesbos camp since it became a closed facility last month, and also as a protest at the conditions there. Journalists have been barred from entering the site or the holding centres on four other islands.
Condition on Lesbos were “challenging and volatile”, UNHCR said, with insufficient food and pregnant women and children among those held. Families have been separated because of the agreement, with some members inside the Lesbos holding centre and others on the mainland or elsewhere in Europe.
“Many of those who have arrived here have experienced horrendous wars,” Cheshirkov said. “To be put in a closed environment it feels like punishment, whereas seeking asylum is not a crime, it’s a fundamental human right.”