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Turkey starts work on centers for migrant returnees

Turkey is due to start receiving migrants who crossed the Aegean Sea for EU member Greece from Monday

Published: Updated:

Turkey has begun work on two centers to process Syrian and other migrants after they return from Greece under a deal with the EU which comes into force next week, local officials and reports said Saturday.

Under the controversial agreement, Turkey is due to start receiving migrants who crossed the Aegean Sea for EU member Greece from Monday but so far details have been vague over how the transfer will be implemented.

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Work has now started on a center in the major Aegean tourist resort of Cesme in Izmir province, which faces the Greek island of Chios that has been a major target for migrants, the town’s mayor said.

Water pipes and electricity cables are now being laid for the 500 square-meter area by the Ulusoy harbor in Cesme, mayor Muhittin Dalgic was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.

The center will have tents for finger-printing migrants, registering them as well as sanitation facilities, he said.

But Turkish officials said such centers are not refugee camps but processing points from which the migrants will be sent elsewhere as soon as possible.

“Once the health checks and registration is done for the migrants, they will be sent on to camps,” Dalgic was quoted as saying.

“We intend to complete this work with them staying for as short a time as possible,” he added.

There have been fears in Turkey’s fashionable Aegean resorts that a sudden influx of migrants could prompt a backlash from locals and put off tourists.

Local officials in Dikili, also in Izmir province on the Aegean and facing the Greek island of Lesbos -- have said a readmission center is being established in the region for migrants being sent back from Greece.

It remains to be seen how the initial transfers will proceed and if the Dikili and Cesme centers will be involved.

Pictures broadcast by NTV television Friday showed only a barren space at the site of the proposed Dikili centre.

Turkish media reports meanwhile have said the Turkish Red Crescent is preparing to open a new refugee camp further inland in Manisa in western Turkey -- its first outside the south and east of the country -- to accommodate the new influx.

Turkish and EU leaders earlier this month agreed the deal for curbing the influx of migrants that has plunged Europe into its biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

Turkey, which is hosting some 2.7 million Syrian refugees, will allow one Syrian to migrate to Europe in exchange for everyone it takes back.

750 migrants back to Turkey

Meanwhile, Greek officials on Saturday declined to comment on a report it will send some 750 migrants back to Turkey from Monday to kick off a controversial EU readmissions deal.

The report by state news agency ANA said the operation would take migrants from the island of Lesbos to the Turkish port of Dikili between Monday and Wednesday.

“Planning is in progress,” Yiorgos Kyritsis, spokesman for Greece’s refugee coordination unit, told AFP, while declining to comment further.

ANA said EU border agency Frontex had chartered two Turkish leisure vessels for the purpose, and that Frontex police would be on hand to escort the migrants on a one-to-one basis.

Government officials have been tight-lipped on the scheme, which has attracted strong criticism on ethical grounds from the United Nations refugee agency and aid groups.

Critics have warned that the Greek registration sites would become de facto detention centers for people slated to be sent back to Turkey after risking their lives and spending a small fortune just to reach Europe.

A Greek government source told AFP this week that some 400 Frontex police officers were expected to arrive over the weekend to participate in the operation.

Over 52,000 refugees and migrants seeking to reach northern Europe are already stuck in Greece after Balkan states sealed their borders.

Hundreds more continue to land on the Greek islands on a daily basis, despite the EU deal, which was approved by the Greek parliament in a vote Friday.

Amnesty International this week said there were “fatal flaws” in the EU’s migrant deal.

The rights group said its research in the south of Turkey suggested the country was forcing around a hundred Syrians including women and children to return home on a daily basis.