The new European Union-Turkey deal went into effect on Monday with the first refugees arriving by airplane in Germany, while the first deportations occurred from Greece to Turkey.
Between 30 and 40 refugees are set to disembark in the course of the day in the northern German city of Hanover, according to the federal interior ministry. By midday 16 Syrians, members of three families, had already arrived on a flight from Istanbul.
The German government hopes the arrivals will signal a new chapter in the ongoing refugee influx, one of order and control.
Two ferries had left the island of Lesbos on Monday morning at dawn, carrying 136 people, mostly from Pakistan. They have since docked in the Turkish port of Dikili. A ship was also due to depart from the Greek island of Chios.
Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala expects about 500 people will be returned on Monday. Eventually, more than 6,000 refugees are likely to be deported, based on the number of migrants that arrived in Greece after the agreement went into effect on March 20.
The E.U.-Turkey deal stipulates that refugees coming from Turkey to Greece who either do not apply for asylum immediately or whose applications are rejected will be returned.
In return, the European Union will take up to 72,000 Syrian refugees from Turkey. So far, however, only a minority of E.U. countries have committed to accepting refugees. Germany has said it will take in 1,600 refugees. If necessary, an additional 13,500 places could be provided, an interior ministry spokesman said.
“If there is any question of collective deportations without individuals being given the right to claim asylum, that is illegal.”
The E.U. member countries have sent hundreds of officials to Greece to help with the asylum applications and the deportations, and every migrant sent back is to be accompanied by a police officer of the E.U. border agency Frontex.
“We expect scenes of violence,” said a Greek security expert, who asked to remain anonymous. The migrants have paid smugglers thousands of dollars or euros for their trip to the Greek islands, and many fear they will become angry once they realize the money was wasted.
On Monday, Greek officials reported that there had been a wave of people now applying for asylum in Greece. The relatively poor E.U. country is not most migrants’ prefered destination but the route north to the Western Europe has been blocked by Balkan states.
Greek authorities are meeting to make the decision on who will be deported. First, migrants from countries such as Morocco, Algeria and Pakistan are likely to be turned back because in most cases, people from these countries are not deemed to be at risk from political persecution.
Speeding up the process is also a priority. Asylum applications will be evaluated through a fast-track procedure. Decisions will take a week with appeals decided within another week, according to government sources.
Since the main transit routes into Germany are now blocked, fewer asylum seekers are arriving illegally. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said that in March, the daily number at the German-Austrian border was 140 refugees on average.
In spite of the uncertainty of where the 72,000 refugees will end up in Europe, Mr. de Maizière announced that he wants to extend the model of the E.U.-Turkey deal to a pact with North African countries. In theory, this would include reception centers in North African countries for refugees returned from Italy, in exchange for a set number of refugees from the affected countries.
Rights groups have been critical of the deal.
“We don’t know what is going to actually happen,” Peter Sutherland, the chief United Nations spokesman on migration, said this weekend. “But if there is any question of collective deportations without individuals being given the right to claim asylum, that is illegal.”
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has said that Turkey should not be deemed a safe country for refugees.
“In their desperation to seal their borders, E.U. leaders have wilfully 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’s director for Europe and Central Asia.
Gerd Höhler is a Handelsblatt correspondent based in Athens. Anja Stehle is a reporter for Handelsblatt based in Berlin. Siobhán Dowling, an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition, contributed to this report. To contact the authors: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.