Greece deported a second batch of more than 200 migrants to Turkey on Friday under a controversial EU deal to stem mass migration as Germany announced a sharp drop in asylum claims.
Greek officials said two boats carrying 124 migrants --most of them Pakistani men -- had been sent back across the Aegean Sea where hundreds have lost their lives in a quest to reach Europe.
A small group of activists leapt into the water, clutching onto the anchor of the first ferry in an unsuccessful bid to stop the deportation, while a group of protesters chanted “EU, shame on you” and “Freedom for the refugees”.
Hours later the boats arrived in the Turkish harbour town of Dikili where security officials escorted the downcast migrants, clutching blankets and with small backpacks on their shoulders, off the vessels.
A Greek government statement said the migrants included 111 Pakistanis, four Iraqis, as well as citizens of Bangladesh, India, Morocco, Egypt, and a man claiming to be of Palestinian origin.
One of the Pakistanis was not accepted by Turkish authorities at Dikili for undisclosed reasons and was returned to Lesbos, the statement said.
In a separate operation, another 97 people -- mainly Pakistanis and Bangladeshis -- were returned to Turkey via the land border, Greek police said.
The deportations are taking place under a deal between Turkey and the European Union, which is straining under the pressure from the unprecedented flow of migrants into its territory.
Turkey has promised to take back all irregular migrants entering Greece since March 20 while Europe has agreed to resettle one Syrian refugee directly from camps in Turkey for each Syrian deported.
The deported migrants arriving in Dikili underwent health checks and registration before they are due to be sent by bus to Kirklareli on the Bulgarian border, from where they are expected to be deported back to their home country.
Late Thursday, Turkey’s parliament approved a deal signed in 2010 allowing for the repatriation of Pakistani migrants, local media reported.
The threat of deportation is aimed at discouraging people from making the often deadly crossing in flimsy boats.
The transfers began Monday with some 200 migrants returned to Turkey, but then stalled after a last-minute flurry of asylum applications.
Human rights watchdogs say the scheme is badly flawed, and have raised concerns that migrants may not have the chance to apply for asylum before being deported.