A Turkish police officer speaks with a migrant after a vessel transporting migrants from Greek island Chios docked in Dikili port, Turkey, April 4, 2016.
ISTANBUL - The first group of Syrian refugees sent from Turkey under a controversial program have arrived in Europe. The 16 asylum seekers arrived in the northern German city of Hanover Monday morning. Another group of 16 is expected later Monday.
Meanwhile, deported migrants sent to Turkey from the Greek island of Lesbos have begun disembarking from the boats.
Officials say 131 migrants, mostly South Asians, arrived in Dikili Monday. They were escorted one-by-one from the boats to a registration center.
The migrant and refugee activities Monday mark the activation of a controversial plan to stem illegal migration into Europe; a plan criticized by human rights groups.
Under the deal between the European Union and Turkey, those who reach the shores of Greece unlawfully will be returned to Turkey, unless they qualify for asylum.
For every Syrian refugee returned to Turkey from Greece, another will be resettled from Turkey to the European Union.
The deal aims to break up the lucrative people smuggling operations that operate out of Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has acknowledged the sensitivity of the deal.
The prime minister says the government will show compassion as Turkey has received the first migrants turned back from Greece. He said the government will now send some Syrian refugees from camps in Turkey to Europe.
Under the deal, for every Syrian deportation from Greece, the EU will receive a Syrian from a Turkish refugee camp. With Turkey hosting nearly three million refugees, opposition parties have criticized Ankara for agreeing to accept deported refugees.
Saturday in Dikili, locals protested, chanting, "We do not want any more refugees." Seeking to allay criticism, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said many of those deported would be sent home.
Ala said Syrians returned from Greece would be given the chance to register in Turkey, but that Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis would be sent back to their country of origin. Most of those deported Monday reportedly were Pakistanis.
A senior Turkish official said last month Turkey had signed a re-admission agreement with 14 countries, including what was described as major source countries for migrants.
International human right groups have said the EU-Turkey deal contravenes international law.
Last month, Amnesty International accused Turkish security forces of forcibly deporting as many as 100 Syrian refugees a day back to their country, a charge Ankara strongly denied.
But observers say the European Union may be hoping the images of the first deportations will discourage future migrants and refugees seeking to make the perilous crossing from Turkey to Greece.
Source: Voice Of America