Greek Authorities Begin Deporting Migrants To Turkey
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The European Union deported two boatloads of migrants from Greece to Turkey this morning. And a plane from Turkey arrived in Germany with Syrian asylum-seekers.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
It's the first exchange under a new agreement between the EU and Turkey intended to control the huge flow of migrants to Europe. Under the deal, migrants who managed to reach Greece by sea in the last two weeks and from now on will be returned to Turkey.
MONTAGNE: And here's where the swap comes in. For every Syrian who is sent back to Turkey, a Syrian who has been living in a Turkish refugee camp will be allowed to resettle in Europe. We're going to hear from both sides of this drama now. Reporter Joanna Kakissis is on the Greek island of Lesbos, and NPR's Peter Kenyon is a short distance away on the Turkish coast, where the first boatload of migrants arrived.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, I'm now in Ayvalik. I had to move away from the port of Dikili for this chat. It's a small town where that boat pulled in. I watched it come in, and there's a very heavy security presence - water cannon trucks, all kinds of things around. And then, slowly, one by one, these returning migrants quietly walked off, each one accompanied by a security officer. There's been medical checks. We're not sure exactly where they will be taken right away. And it looks like there's not going to be any access to these people, at least in the immediate future. The officials here in Turkey are saying they're ready to accept about 500 people between now and Wednesday. And the German ambassador in Ankara says 40 Syrians are going to be sent to Germany, so it's a very modest beginning and almost a test run for this EU-Turkey migrant deal.
MONTAGNE: And now to Joanna Kakissis on the island of Lesbos. And Joanna, what was the scene this morning as those ships were loaded and departed?
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Yeah, so access here was very restricted, so we watched - many of us watched behind a gate - this huge iron gate. We saw the buses with the migrants arrive. It looked all of them were men. They were indeed escorted by police officers from EU member states, and they represent the EU border patrol agency, Frontex. I saw three Turkish-flagged ferries here. All three left, but only two have been confirmed as carrying migrants to Turkey. On state TV today, the government spokesman on refugees issues - his name is Giorgos Kyritsis - he said there were 136 migrants deported from Lesbos and 66 from the nearby island of Chios, so that's a total of 202 people. Kyritsis says 200 of those migrants are from Pakistan and two are from Syria. So - and he said that they all declined asylum in Greece. There were a handful of protesters here - mostly volunteers - who had been helping asylum-seekers on the island for a long time. And they chanted, no borders, no nations, stop deportations. They held up signs. But there's really a sense of despair and defeat here.
MONTAGNE: And, Peter, again, back to you in Turkey. You've been up and down that coast in the past few days. How are migrants reacting to this new reality?
KENYON: Well, it's a pretty harsh reality for them, and it's a big change from when I was doing stories on this a few months ago. Turkey launched a serious crackdown last month on smugglers and travelers. They stepped up patrols. Crossings have plummeted from thousands a day to a few hundred - and not even that sometimes. So you have more people staying here in Turkey, even before these returnees from Greece. And the prospects for them are still very meager, so the incentive to move on, if anything, is going to get greater. But the question of where can they go is more and more problematic.
MONTAGNE: But you've met some families, I gather, who tried and failed to get even as far as Greece. That's a dangerous crossing. How do they feel about trying again?
KENYON: Well, there are still some who say they want to try. But for this trip, I'm getting more and more people saying, that's enough; we're going to stay here for a while unless a legal crossing comes up. I met a Syrian woman, Ahaloud Hattab (ph), and her husband and three kids. They had a horrible story - three hours in the Aegean winter waters. Their boat capsized. Her kids barely survived. One was in a coma for a while. And the worst was they had to watch her cousin's children all drown. She says her husband can't find work. The kids are terrified of the water. She says she'd consider going back to Syria - to Idlib in northern Syria at this point. Here's what she said.
AHALOUD HATTAB: (Through interpreter) We saw death, and we saw hope, altogether on the same trip. Death was very much closer. If we cannot provide for the family, I definitely will go back to Syria. If I need something, I will ask the son of my country. It's still very much easier for me to ask that guy than asking Turks who won't be able to feel what I'm going through.
MONTAGNE: And that is a very sad story. Let me turn again to Joanna. Are migrants there on the island of Lesbos that you spoke to telling others not, now, to make the crossing, given these deportations?
KAKISSIS: Well, we actually have no access to migrants on the island here on Lesbos. The police have kept them behind bars at the detention camp. But I did speak to some Syrian and Iraqi asylum-seekers near the village of Idomeni, where I just was a couple of days ago. There's a huge makeshift migrant camp there. And I spoke to a young economist from Damascus who identified himself as Abu Ghaith (ph). He has a family in Syria, and he's afraid to reveal his full name, but he says he's been contacted by family and friends waiting in Turkey. And this is what he told them.
ABU GHAITH: No, don't come. Just stay there. Go back to your country or try to take any documents from Turkish governments or anything. Like, you can stay legally in Turkey. That's the best choice for you.
KAKISSIS: And this is a very different message from what I heard last fall when Syrians and Iraqis were very eager to get to Northern Europe and they saw the door open because they believed they would find acceptance, mercy and work there.
MONTAGNE: Well, thank you both very much.
KAKISSIS: You're welcome.
KENYON: Thanks, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And that is reporter Joanna Kakissis on the Greek island of Lesbos and NPR's Peter Kenyon, just across the Aegean on the Turkish coast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.