Turkey received a plane of Syrian migrants from Europe on Wednesday, days after the beginning of the implementation of an agreement between Turkey and the European Union for the resettlement of migrants.
Twelve migrants, including two children and four women, were flown from the Greek island of Lesbos, in the company of five Turkish police officers and officers from Frontex, the EU's border control agency. They will be accommodated in refugee camps near Adana, a province in southern Turkey where more than 10,000 Syrians reside in a refugee camp.
Frontex spokesman Ewa Moncure said the refugees had not applied for asylum in Greece and had agreed to return to Turkey.
Turkey has now received 374 migrants from Greece under the newly implemented EU-Turkey deal, with the latest group of 49 migrants transferred to the country by ferry on Tuesday. The resettled migrants include those from Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, and they will be temporarily accommodated in centers in several Turkish cities, awaiting for their relocation to their home countries, as part of the EU-Turkey deal. Ankara has ruled out sending Syrians back to their war-torn homeland, while those migrants from other countries returned to Turkey consists of those who have not sought asylum in Greece.
Facing an unprecedented flow of refugees, not seen since World War II, Europe has turned to Turkey to stem the flow of migrants seeking to reach the continent through Greece, the nearest gateway. Turkish coasts lie in close proximity to Greece's Aegean islands, which are crowded with migrants, especially Syrians who traveled before the EU-Turkey deal was signed on March 18. Under the deal, Turkey will readmit migrants who do not apply for asylum in Greece, or whose asylum requests were turned down by Greek authorities. The agreement covers only those who traveled from Turkey to Greece illegally since March 20.
Though the agreement is promoted as part of the fight against human smuggling - which has swelled as civil war has destroyed Syria along with the rise of DAESH, Russian airstrikes, etc. - EU member states have been unable to resolve the need to take in refugees since a surge in numbers last year, with the growing xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, particularly in Eastern Europe.The agreement stipulates that for each migrant sent back to Turkey, European countries - including Germany, the Netherlands and Finland - will take one migrant from Turkey. A small number of refugees flew to these European countries earlier this month. The deal also stipulates 6 billion euros in aid to Turkey for the care of Syrian refugees, who number more than 2.7 million in Turkey. The deal foresees the exchange of 72,000 migrants.
Speaking to Reuters, Greek government spokesman for migration Giorgos Kyritsis said they were "not cutting corners [and] ...not delaying," adding that Greece was sticking to legal procedures, so that the asylum process is completed "in the best possible way," as the slow process of resettlement from Greece to Turkey is linked to Greece's inability to smoothly process an overwhelming number of asylum applications among migrants seeking to stay in Europe.
The latest figures from Turkey's Coast Guard show that the EU-Turkey deal is working, with the number of migrants intercepted at sea only 1,536 in April, a substantial decline compared to the more than 8,100 people intercepted in March.
Concerning the humanitarian dimension of the agreement, curbing the flow of migrants is contributing to something more important: preventing deaths. No migrant deaths were reported in the Aegean Sea in April, according to statistics published on the Turkish Coast Guard website. A total of 32 migrants drowned in the Aegean Sea in March. Although the Aegean route is a shortcut to Europe for migrants compared to the land route, it is probably the deadliest. Migrants are often forced to travel in shoddy, overcrowded boats and rafts, with cheap life vests that are unable to keep them afloat if their boats sink. Strong winds on the Aegean Sea add to the dangers of the journey.