LESBOS, Greece – Aid workers on the island of Lesbos Thursday protested planned deportations of migrants and refugees from Greece, as the government said the process would not start for at least another 10 days.
Blowing whistles and banging aluminum containers, dozens of aid workers gathered outside a refugee registration center on the island where hundreds of people are now being detained.
"We organized this protest ... to give a face to the people because they almost have none anymore, since they are locked inside," independent aid worker Nefeli Gazis said.
More than 2,000 refugees and migrants have been detained on Lesbos and other islands near the Turkish coast since an international agreement went into effect Sunday to fast track deportations to Turkey.
Last week's EU-Turkey agreement stipulates those arriving on Greek islands from the Turkish coast as of March 20 would be detained and sent back. For every Syrian returned, another Syrian in Turkey will be relocated to a European country.
European officials say the system aims to discourage refugees from risking their lives to cross the Aegean. Human rights and aid groups have strongly criticized the decision as inhumane and illegal, with most scaling back operations that involve assisting the government.
In Athens, a government official told the AP that deportations would start on April 4, and would carried out by the European Union's border protection agency, Frontex.
Giorgos Kyritsis, a spokesman for a government refugee crisis committee, said the send-backs would start with migrants who had made no asylum claim while being held in detention in Greece.
"It's unclear what vessels will be used to make the transfer, but Frontex will have the authority over those operations," he said.
Earlier, Kyritsis announced the government was creating 30,000 new places at refugee shelters — extending capacity at existing sites and creating new ones — over the next 20 days for voluntary evacuation of refugees camped out at the Greek-Macedonian border and the country's main port of Piraeus.
Some 12,000 people remain at the border camp near the village of Idomeni, most living in squalid conditions.
"We will intensify our efforts to persuade people to leave Idomeni. Chartered buses will be available starting tomorrow for people who want to start leaving," Kyritsis said.
Legislative amendments needed for the EU-Turkey deal to take full effect in Greece, would be submitted to parliament next Wednesday, he said.
Gatopoulos reported from Athens. Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.
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