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      Migrants Keep Arriving in Greece as EU and Turkey Seal a Deal to Deport Them

      Migrants Keep Arriving in Greece as EU and Turkey Seal a Deal to Deport Them Migrants Keep Arriving in Greece as EU and Turkey Seal a Deal to Deport Them Migrants Keep Arriving in Greece as EU and Turkey Seal a Deal to Deport Them
      Photo by Harriet Salem/VICE News


      Migrants Keep Arriving in Greece as EU and Turkey Seal a Deal to Deport Them

      By Harriet Salem and Sally Hayden

      On Friday morning a boat hit the southeast shore of Lesbos, the largest of a quintet of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, spilling a load of around 40 mainly Syrian and Iraqi migrants onto the rough stone shore at the bottom of a steep cliff.

      Facing a nearly two-mile trek to the closest road, one man, wearing a suit jacket over his life vest, hoisted his young daughter onto his shoulder and clutched his terrified son's hand. Aid workers took turns carrying one young Iraqi boy, with a broken foot, on their backs. Another man traipsed over the rocks and pebbles wearing only one shoe.

      In a second boat, which landed further down the coast, several children pulled off were wearing flimsy inflatable arm bands intended for swimming pools. "It's a terrible situation to see this," Nora, a German volunteer that helped the migrants disembark the vessel, told VICE News. "If these children fall in the water they will drown, it's no protection."

      Later, in Brussels, a "unanimous" deal between the European Union (EU) leaders and Turkey was reached on Friday afternoon, seemingly signaling the end to the largest movement of people into the continent since World War II.

      The agreement, which will see all irregular migrants arriving in Europe from Sunday sent back across the Aegean Sea, follows months of wrangling between European powers over the distribution of migrants, and means to stymie the flow of people arriving.

      (Photo by Harriet Salem/VICE News)

      In return for accepting back those people that continue to attempt to cross the strait of water to Greece — less than five miles at its narrowest point — Turkey has been promised "re-energized talks on its European membership" and had pledged that all asylum seekers will be treated in accordance with international laws including provisions that prohibit the return of refugees to their country of origin.

      For its part, the EU has promised that it will take one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every Syrian that it returns and that the some 45,000 migrants currently in Greece will be eligible for a resettlement program that will allocate people to countries across Europe, although the details of that scheme are not yet clear.

      Ankara will also receive $6 billion in aid for its role in helping bring an end to the crisis. Greece has requested 4,000 extra staff, including 2,500 from the EU, to help it handle the registration and returns process. The EU has capped the one-for-one resettlement scheme at 72,000.

      Greece's system for handling migrants, has often been chaotic, with some 13,000 people currently camped out on its border with Macedonia. Official camps are still being constructed up and down the country.

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      After a few days of stormy weather, boat arrivals on Lesbos picked up again in the second half of this week, though volunteers who scan the sea with the binoculars throughout the night and early morning said that many more of the rubber dinghies were being intercepted by the Greek coast guard and the European Frontex border force.

      Over the last week Greece has received some 5,000 new arrivals, according to the International Organization for Migration — less than half the number that arrived the week before.

      At least 30,000 people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other poor and war-torn counties are now stranded in Greece after the so-called Balkan Route slammed shut last last week, though that estimate is likely conservative.

      A dearth of information about who will and who won't be eligible for refugee status under new rules agreed today by European leaders has created a sense of panic and confusion among the migrants, many of whom fear that country-based restrictions on asylum claims may make them ineligible.

      In one NGO camp on Lesbos, called Better Days For Moria around 700 Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrants, mainly men, are refusing to register with the authorities due to new rules that would see them deported.

      (Photo by Harriet Salem/VICE News)

      Another group of migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo, told VICE News they fear European leaders are not sympathetic to refugees fleeing conflicts in Africa.

      "Maybe people just know Syria and Afghanistan but in our country there is war, years of war," said Souzdale Mayengo, a mother traveling with two young children. "There's no jobs, no schools, and every day shooting, shooting," she added, making the gesture of a machine gun.

      Marios Andriotis, a senior advisor to Lesbos's mayor, said that the priority for European leaders should be to devise a system that allowed each case fair consideration. "People can flee because of war, but also for a whole variety of other reasons, such as political persecution," he told VICE News. "There needs to be a system that allows for a case-by-case examination... It doesn't necessarily make sense to do it based on country alone."

      Fahd, from Raqqa in Syria, said that his family had decided to stay near the Macedonian border until European leaders concluded today's meeting. "We're just sitting and waiting for news," he told VICE News. "There's still a chance it [the border] might open."

      (Photo by Harriet Salem/VICE News)

      Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron has also called for the expansion of an EU rescue mission off the coast of North Africa, so that the international patrol boats can work with Libya's coast guard to return boats there, in an extension of Operation Sophia, the mission purportedly aimed at quelling smuggler activity in the central Mediterranean.

      "We think Operation Sophia has achieved a lot in terms of bringing the numbers down... but one of the challenges the operation has is that it is still only operating on the high seas," a UK government source said, according to the Guardian.

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      In response, Vickie Hawkins, UK director of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, said it is unacceptable for Britain to propose "gunships" to push back boats, and would make the UK complicit in abandoning people to a regime of abuse and violence in Libya.

      "In the wake of the devastation of WWII, European countries came together to welcome refugees, providing them with safe havens," Hawkins said.

      "The UK led the way in establishing international humanitarian principles. The fact that 70 years later Britain's leader and representative is willing to deploy warships to push desperate people back to a war-torn country shames our nation and our values."

      So far this year more than 460 people have died or gone missing while attempting the trip across the Mediterranean Sea.

      Reuters contributed to this report.

      Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @harrietsalem

      Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

      Topics: europe, greece, brussels, european union, migration, open water, european migration crisis


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