First boats carrying refugees under EU-Turkey deal set off from Greece

First groups of refugees being deported from Greece to Turkey under EU plan, set off early on Monday

The first boats carrying refugees being deported from Greece to Turkey under the controversial EU plan aimed at softening the impact of mass migration, have departed, with large numbers of refugees seen boarding ferries on the Greek island of Lesbos in the early hours of Monday morning.

According to international reports, the refugees are being sent to Dikili, western Turkey, where Turkish officials say they expect to receive around 500 people. Another ferry is also due to leave the Greek island of Chios later today.

The controversial agreement has been attacked by human rights groups and there are concerns over a lack of preparation, with refugees in Greece complaining that they have not been informed about asylum procedures, or that they could be returned to Turkey. Human rights groups have also pointed out that Turkey is not a safe country for migrants, with Amnesty International accusing the country of illegally returning Syrians to their homeland.

The Associated Press has reported that the EU agency responsible for escorting people back across the Aegean has less than one-tenth of the staff needed for the job.

The BBC reports that a spokesman for Frontex, said that 131 people had left the island so far with most of them having originally come from Pakistan.

The deal means that those arriving illegally in Greece are expected to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected. Furthermore, for each Syrian refugee returned to Turkey, the EU is due to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request. Turkey also won financial and political concessions as part of the agreement.

Both countries have made a panicked rush to meet deadlines, with doubts over the countries being well prepared being voiced.  The BBC reports that two tents have been erected in Dikili to register the first group from Lesbos, with similar facilities further south to receive migrants sent from Chios.

Tens of thousands of refugees have been stuck in Greece after northern countries closed their borders, with clashes in camps developing over the dire conditions. According to estimates, one million refugees have entered the EU by boat from Turkey to Greece since last year, with many of them eager to travel to Germany or other northern EU states. Authorities have also warned that the scheme could essentially mean that refugees consider and attempt more dangerous routes into the EU.

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