Greece delays sending refugees back to Turkey under EU deal

Athens, Mar 20: Greece will not be able to start sending refugees back to Turkey from today, the government said, as the country struggles to implement a key deal aimed at easing Europe's migrant crisis.

Under the agreement clinched between Brussels and Anakara last week, migrants who reach the Greek islands will be deported back to Turkey.


For every Syrian returned, the EU will resettle one from a Turkish refugee camp. The deal aims to strangle the main route used by migrants travelling to the EU and discourage people smugglers, but it has faced criticism from rights groups and thousands took to the streets of Europe in protest.

Greek premier Alexis Tsipras told his ministers on Saturday afternoon to be ready to begin deporting people the following day, as agreed, but officials said afterwards they needed more time to prepare.

"The agreement to send back new arrivals on the islands should, according to the text, enter into force on March 20," the government coordinator for migration policy (migration coordination agency) spokesman Giorgos Kyritsis told AFP.

"But a plan like this cannot be put in place in only 24 hours." Around 1,500 people crossed the Aegean to Greece's islands Friday before the deal was brought in, officials said -- more than double the day before and compared with several hundred a day earlier this week.

A four-month-old baby drowned when a migrant boat sank off the Turkish coast Saturday hours before the deal came into force, Turkey's Anatolia agency reported.

Hundreds of security and legal experts -- 2,300 according to Tsipras -- are set to arrive in Greece to help enforce the deal, described as "Herculean" by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

Paris and Berlin have pledged to send 600 police and asylum experts to Greece, according to a joint letter seen by AFP.

But Greek officials said they were still waiting for the extra personnel, and without them they would struggle to enforce the new accord.

"We still don't know how the deal will be implemented in practice," a police source on the island of Lesbos told AFP.

"Above all, we are waiting for the staff Europe promised to be able to quickly process asylum applications -- translators, lawyers, police officers -- because we cannot do it alone."

Realistically, migrants will likely not start being returned to Turkey until April 4, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a key backer of the scheme. 



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