Police on the Greek island of Lesbos have begun placing migrants and refugees on boats bound to Turkey, the first to be deported under a European Union plan to limit the amount of migration to Europe. Under heavy security, the first 135 migrants were escorted onto two small ferries as dawn broke Monday by officers from the EU border protection agency, Frontex, to nearby ports on the Turkish coast, under the plan that has been strongly criticized by human rights groups. About 4,000 migrants and refugees have been detained on Greek islands since the agreement came into effect March 20.
"This is the first day of a very difficult time for refugee rights. Despite the serious legal gaps and lack of adequate protection in Turkey, the EU is forging ahead with a dangerous deal," Giorgos Kosmopoulos, head of Amnesty International in Greece, tells the AP. "Turkey is not a safe third country for refugees. The EU and Greek authorities know this and have no excuse." The deportations were due to start with migrants who did not apply for asylum or had their applications declared inadmissible, but Kosmopoulos warns that this is a "symbolic kickoff of what might be a very dangerous practice of returns to Turkey." (Supporters say the plan will "break the business model" of smugglers.)