The Washington Post reports: The European Union began offloading its refugee crisis onto its Turkish neighbors Monday, sending back more than 200 migrants in the first stage of a plan to deport thousands that has drawn condemnation from human rights groups.
The returns — carried out at dawn and under heavy security — were intended to send a powerful message to others considering the journey from Turkey to Greece via a smuggler’s rubber raft: Don’t even bother.
Authorities braced for demonstrations or other forms of resistance from those being sent back only days after crossing the Aegean and arriving on European soil in search of a new life — part of a massive migrant wave that has tested Europe’s resources and highlighted the desperation to the east in war zones such as Syria.
But the expulsions were carried out smoothly and quietly; two ferries packed with migrants and E.U. escorts slipped away from the island of Lesbos and charted an eastbound course toward the rising sun along the blue mountains of the Turkish coast.
A third ferry left the island of Chios, bringing the total sent back to 202 by late Monday — nearly all from Pakistan or Afghanistan. Both islands are popular landing spots for refugee rafts.
Under a deal struck with Turkey last month, all refugees and migrants who arrive on Greek shores aboard smugglers’ rafts from March 20 onward will be sent back.
In return, the European Union has said it will accept one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every Syrian who is returned. Germany said Monday that it had accepted its first several dozen Syrians flown from Turkey under the new program. [Continue reading…]