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EU-Turkey deal to delay Europe-bound migrants

March 19, 2016 at 5:59 PM EDT
Most Syrian refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey are expected to be sent back, under an agreement between the EU and Turkey. In exchange, Europe will accept some Syrian refugees from Turkey and provide billions of dollars to help pay for it all. To discuss migrant conditions in Greece, Associated Press reporter Derek Gatopoulos joins Alison Stewart via Skype.

ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  Under an agreement between the European Union and Turkey that goes into effect tomorrow, most refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey are expected to be sent back.  In exchange, Europe will accept some Syrian refugees from Turkey and provide billions of dollars to help pay for it all.  Greek officials say the logistics of the new agreement will take time to implement, involving thousands of translators and other experts.

Earlier this month, Macedonia closed its border, leaving roughly 46,000 migrants and refugees stranded in Greece.

Joining me now from Greece to discuss the migrant conditions is “Associated Press” reporter Derek Gatopoulos.

Derek, starting tomorrow, migrants arriving illegally in Greece will be sent back to Turkey.  How is this going to be implemented and what are some of the complications?

DEREK GATOPOULOS, ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTER: Well, the main cause of the complication is that they haven’t decided on a mechanism to send them back yet and they just finished some between the prime ministers and the ministers involved in the crisis and they still haven’t come up with a way to send the migrants back.  What Greece has proposed is that they use privately charted boats that would be escorted.  But apparently, all sides still have to agree on the method.

ALISON STEWART: As for migrants and refugees that are tale in Greece right now, are conditions tense on the ground with this news?  Are they aware of what’s happening?

DEREK GATOPOULOS: Most people are aware.  Emotions, to be fair, are mixed.

Some people are very disappointed that they won’t be able to travel to Europe immediately.  And that they will be stuck here for more than a year perhaps.  On the other hand, there is also relief that they won’t be sent back.

So the people already in Greece will not be deported.  Having said that, there was the demonstration just finished in Athens and several thousand people, including migrants, were protesting the E.U.-Turkey deal.

ALISON STEWART: That’s interesting, I was asking about Greece citizens.  Is this seen as a positive or negative given Greece own financial issues?

DEREK GATOPOULOS: Well, it’s not something that’s happened overnight.  So, people have gotten used to the fact there is a refugee crisis and seeing people from Syria in the streets in most cities in Greece.  And — so it is hot a new phenomenon.

On the other hand, for sure, it’s a strain on the economy.  So, again, it is a mixed picture.  There is a lot of goodwill towards refugees, but also fear that the country’s recovery will be even slower than expected.

ALISON STEWART: As the E.U. is clamping down on migrants and refugees coming into Europe, you have people who are somewhat stuck in the middle, can’t get to family members who may have made it to Germany, where is this happening and how are conditions for those people?

DEREK GATOPOULOS: Well, people are straggling all around the route, to be fair.  The route closed about one month ago and closed completely a couple of weeks ago.  But most of those people are stranded in Greece, about 50,000, nearly 50,000 of them, and even if they do get a relocation place, they may not get sent to where their families are because they don’t get to choose.  So, they could be — someone could have a brother in Germany, most people went to Germany, and then be relocated in France let’s say.

ALISON STEWART: We should talk about the fact there are geopolitics involved in this in terms of Turkey’s desire to be part of the E.U.

DEREK GATOPOULOS: Turkey — from Turkey’s point of view, they are one of the biggest countries to accept refugees in the world, so they have more than the 2 million, and, of course, from their point of view they have already a very unfair burden of the refugee crisis.  So, they want something in return for taking the refugees back under this agreement.

And what they wanted was for most of all free travel for their citizens into the E.U. without visas and which likely they will get in the next three or four months and also want accelerated process to join the E.U., which they didn’t get what they hoped for, but they got something.

ALISON STEWART: Derek Gatopoulos reporting from Greece — thanks so much.