EU-Turkey deal on turning back migrants appears in limbo

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Sunday was the day an agreement between the European Union and Turkey on ending illegal migration went into effect — but its implementation still remains uncertain.

Greek authorities say they’re not sure any migrants entering Greece will be processed and turned back before Monday.

Greece is expecting 2,300 European experts, including migration officers and translators, to help implement the deal, but none have arrived yet.

Instead, 875 new refugees landed on four of Greece’s Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast. In one of the boats arriving on the island of Lesbos, two Syrian men were found dead of yet unknown causes.

The EU-Turkey plan aims to halt smuggling by sending migrants who come to Greece and do not qualify for asylum back to Turkey in exchange for European nations taking refugees directly from Turkey.

Turkey is also required to step up efforts to crack down on illegal migration. The deal puts Ankara on the fast track to get $6.6 billion in aid to deal with refugees on its territory, unprecedented visa concessions for Turks to visit Europe and a re-energizing of its EU membership bid.

Turkey, which is already hosting 2.7 million Syrian refugees, has been a primary departure point for Europe, while Greece has borne the brunt of arrivals. More than 1 million migrants arrived in Europe over the past year.

A Turkish news agency reported Sunday that 320 would-be migrants to Greece had been intercepted in a coastal town. The private Dogan agency said the migrants were caught in the town of Dikili, a main crossing point to the Greek island of Lesbos.

Amid all this, Greece is still relocating migrants from its islands to temporary refugee camps on the mainland. A ferry carrying 1,169 migrants arrived Sunday at the port of Elefsina, west of Athens. Another ferry carrying some 1,300 migrants was on its way to Elefsina from Lesbos.

The arriving refugees were taken to buses heading to temporary camps in northern Greece.

On the Greek border town of Idomeni, where about 10,000 migrants that were refused entry into Macedonia are stranded, the mayor criticized plans to make the sprawling, muddy, makeshift encampment permanent.

“(The government) asked us to bring sleeping cars through Hellenic Railways, approximately seven or eight cars to accommodate refugees. That’s not the solution. I think the (camp) should be evacuated,” said Christos Goudenoudis, mayor of Peonia.

“The locals are starting to fear what the migrants will do when they run out of money,” Goudenoudis told The Associated Press.

Refugees started piling up in Greece after Austria and countries further north started closing their borders to them.

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