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Greece Begins Migrant Deportations Under EU-Turkey Deal


This morning, the European Union deported the first 202 migrants to Turkey under a controversial deal agreed to a couple weeks ago. The deportations are part of an EU plan to stop the mass migration into Europe from Turkey. Aid groups say the plan may be depriving migrants of their right to asylum. Joanna Kakissis reports from the Greek island of Lesbos where most of the deportations took place today.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Stop the deal, no deportations. EU, shame on you.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The protesters arrived at dawn just as buses pulled into the port where Turkish-flagged ferries awaited. In the buses were scores of men from Pakistan. They were about to be deported to Turkey. The protesters, volunteer aid workers from around the world, chanted their outrage behind a giant iron gate. Giorgos Kosmopoulos watched the men board the ferries. He's the head of Amnesty International in Greece.

GIORGOS KOSMOPOULOS: What I saw was an orderly procedure. I didn't see any tension. The police told us that all these people were not asylum-seekers.

KAKISSIS: He's hoping the police are informing migrants of their rights.

KOSMOPOULOS: And important is not only to have the right to apply for asylum, for example, if you want to apply, obviously, but also to this application to be processed properly and fairly.

KAKISSIS: Boris Cheshirkov says the United Nations Refugee Agency is trying to make sure that happens. He's the group's spokesman on Lesbos, and he says many of the nearly 3,000 migrants inside the main camp on this island have told police they intend to claim asylum here. Greek authorities are still waiting for the EU to send resources to help process those claims, but Cheshirkov says the situation is growing increasingly desperate inside the camp.

BORIS CHESHIRKOV: We're experiencing and observing overcrowding. We're seeing scuffles in queues for food. Families have told us that they've gone with missing meals. We've seen growing anxiety and confusion and tensions and uncertainty on what would happen in the next stages of their stay there.

KAKISSIS: The main camp on Lesbos is now a detention center, and Greek police often chase away journalists who try to talk migrants held inside. Twenty-four-year-old Taqwa Hariri from Daraa, Syria, waves me over and leans close to the tall chain-link fence.

TAQWA HARIRI: You know, before we came, before 15 days, it was less people, less problems and troubles. But now it's getting more difficult.

KAKISSIS: She says she's telling her family in Syria not to make the trip to Europe.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Arabic).

KAKISSIS: There's an announcement in Arabic over a loudspeaker. Adnan Hussein al-Yazidi, a 19-year-old Kurd from Kobani, Syria, wonders if it has something to do with asylum claims. He says police only gave him two choices.

ADNAN HUSSEIN AL-YAZIDI: You have only asylum here, or you come back to Turkish. I say, yes, I can asylum. Nobody's giving any information. Nobody say, why you here; why we do that; why?

KAKISSIS: That confusion concerns Lucy Carrigan of the International Rescue Committee. We walk around the outside of the camp. Inside, there are families and children.

LUCY CARRIGAN: What happens to those who have made their asylum claims here? Where do they go? You know, where will they be hosted while they wait? What kind of services will be in place for them while they wait?

KAKISSIS: Those are questions that the Greek government and the EU are still working out. There are more than 50,000 migrants currently in Greece. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis on Lesbos. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.