Less than 24 hours before Greece deports the first wave of refugees and migrants to Turkey under the maligned deal that sees humans turned into bargaining chips, officials are predicting chaos and violence as the agreement takes effect.
According to Agence France-Presse, the Turkish interior minister said the country is expecting to take in up to 500 migrants from Greece on Monday. The Greek state news agency ANA said some 750 refugees and migrants are set to be sent back between Monday and Wednesday.
But as France 24 points out, "so far details have been vague over how the transfer will be implemented." So-called "readmission centers" are still being set up in Turkey, with a local newspaper reporting that as the Dikili center—in Izmir province on the Aegean Sea and facing the Greek island of Lesbos—was not finished, the first registrations from Monday would take part in indoor sports arenas in the town.
On the other side of the Agean, reads a report at Kathimerini English Edition, "there are concerns about the security at the so-called hot spots on the Greek islands, where asylum seekers have been held for the past few weeks."
Noting that humanitarian groups have withdrawn from the hotspots citing rights violations, the report continues:
Their withdrawal and the limited deployment of police and other state officials has allowed tension to grow at the camps. Local officials are concerned that the situation will worsen once the returns begin.
“One day someone came along and fitted a padlock and turned the hot spot from an open facility into a closed one, without the proper infrastructure and security,” Chios Mayor Manolis Vournos told Kathimerini. “Also, no action is being taken to reduce the tension. The state does not understand what its role should be and how serious things are, especially after the NGOs left and there is nobody who knows how to deal with these situations.”
On Friday, according to Reuters, "hundreds of migrants and refugees on the Greek island of Chios tore down part of the razor wire fence surrounding their holding centre...and began walking to the port in protest, police officials said."
"If they make me go back to Turkey I'll throw myself and my family into the sea," Mustafa, a Syrian waiting with his wife and children at the port of Chios told Agence France-Presse. "We went from hell to hell."
Another protester told the BBC, "Deportation is a big mistake because we have risked a lot to come here especially during our crossing from Turkey to Greece. We cannot go back."
That desperation "has triggered mounting fears in Athens over the practicality of enforcing an agreement already marred by growing concerns over its legality," the Guardian reports:
“We are expecting violence. People in despair tend to be violent,” the leftist-led government’s migration spokesman, Giorgos Kyritsis, told the Observer. “The whole philosophy of the deal is to deter human trafficking [into Europe] from the Turkish coast, but it is going to be difficult and we are trying to use a soft approach. These are people [who] have fled war. They are not criminals.”
Barely 24 hours ahead of the pact coming into force, it emerged that Frontex, the EU border agency, had not dispatched the appropriate personnel to oversee the operation. Eight Frontex boats will transport men, women and children, who are detained on Greek islands and have been selected for deportation, back across the Aegean following fast-track asylum hearings. But of the 2,300 officials the EU has promised to send Greece only 200 have so far arrived, [Greek government migration spokesman, Giorgos] Kyritsis admitted.
Meanwhile, the United Nations, Amnesty International, and European officials continue to raise serious human rights concerns about the deal's implementation.
On Saturday, the UN secretary general’s special representative for international migration and development, Peter Sutherland, said the pact could even be illegal. In an interview with the BBC, he explained: "Collective deportations without having regard to the individual rights of those who claim to be refugees are illegal. Now, we don’t know what is going to happen next week, but if there is any question of collective deportations without individuals being given the right to claim asylum, that is illegal."
Austria's President Heinz Fischer on Saturday not only said he was "skeptical" the deal would stop more refugees and migrants from coming to Europe, but denounced human rights abuses in Turkey. "There are many things happening in Turkey right now that I don't like," he told Austrian public radio O1.
And on Sunday, speaking to Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said, "We must not be silent on violations of fundamental rights in Turkey just because we are cooperating on the refugee question."
This week, Amnesty said the agreement was one that "can only be implemented with the hardest of hearts and a blithe disregard for international law."