Pact calls for those arriving illegally by sea to be sent back to Turkey
Migrants at the Greek border camp of Idomeni say they are as determined as ever to reach Western Europe. They appear undeterred by an accord between Turkey and the EU aimed at stemming the flow of people from the Middle East and North Africa.
Under the pact, Ankara will take back all migrants and refugees, including Syrians, who reach Greece illegally by sea. In return, the EU will take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and reward it with more money, early visa-free travel and faster progress in EU membership talks.
But it is not clear what will happen to the tens of thousands of migrants and refugees already in Greece. With the Macedonian border still closed, they remain stranded.
"I think they have concentrated about the deal between Turkey and your countries, I think they didn't concentrate about the people here, we have been here about one month and you can see bad weather, winds, rains, children a lot of them are sick," Syrian man from Deir Al Zour says.
Turkey, meanwhile, appears not to have wasted any time in fulfilling its part of the deal. Security forces say they have detained more than 1,000 migrants and 16 people smugglers in an operation near the town of Dikili on Turkey's Aegean frontier. The action comes as part of a massive sweep to stop refugees reaching the Greek island of Lesbos. The coast guard, navy and air support were all deployed. The migrants will be questioned to determine their backgrounds and what action will be taken next. Authorities state they are still working to ascertain the nationalities of those detained. Most are from Afghanistan and Syria.
"We, all Syrians here, hope to be safe and they are running from war, from dangers, from bombs, and we all need, we all need a legal way maybe not sea, by the sea, just running or walking. Just that," Syrian migrant Ossama Khatib says.
The pact which prompted the Turkish security sweep was clinched in Brussels. EU leaders held talks with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu before European Council President Donald Tusk recommended the bloc's member states approve the text of the deal without changes. Among Ankara's central objectives was to obtain visa-free travel for Turks to Europe within a matter of months.
"This is also an important agreement to deepen our relations, our accession process and relation. Of course the most important aspect is visa liberalisation. Since readmission process is starting, visa liberalisation is a natural extension result of this readmission and visa liberalisation we hope will be before end of June," Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says.
But the cancellation of visas so soon seems unlikely with Turkey still needing to meet a raft of long-standing EU criteria. A re-energising of membership talks is also among the political rewards for Ankara. But French President Hollande has been quick to play down any talk of EU membership.
"There is no change in the position of France nor in position of Eur ope. The position of France is that negotiating does not mean membership and that the negotiations do not in any way presuppose what the result may be. The European position is that there are chapters, 35 of them, and we are if I may say only at the beginning or the middle, maybe, of the process that will take still years and years," French President Francois Hollande says.
The Ankara-Brussels migrant deal will see the EU accelerate the release of EUR 3 billion euros already pledged in support for refugees in Turkey and provide a further 3 billion by 2018. That comes in spite of criticism from human rights groups. Amnesty International is drawing attention to Turkey's poor human rights record and is calling upon EU leaders not to trade in the lives of refugees.