Uncertain times for refugees on the migrant trail in Greece

The UN refugee agency is refusing to cooperate with European authorities in processing and deporting the migrants stranded in Greece -- a move that could destabilize the recent deal with Turkey to stem the migrant flow. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant was on the island of Lesbos as the last boats arrived from Turkey after an EU deadline that effectively closed the refugee trail.

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    The United Nations Refugee Agency says it will not cooperate with a European plan to deport migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey.

    UNHCR said it would no longer help to transfer migrants and refugees to detention centers, from which some could be deported. The agency's action could disrupt the deal with Turkey signed last Friday, which is aimed at halting the migrant flow. And the walls being rebuilt in Europe will likely only grow taller after today's attacks in Brussels.

    From the island of Lesbos, in Greece, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.


    This was one of the last boats to land on the beaches of southern Lesbos. It was a desperate attempt to beat the deadline set by Europe, which effectively shut down the refugee trail.

    The screams marked the moment of realization that two people had been suffocated in the chaos and darkness of the crossing. As medical teams fought in vain to revive the crush victims, a Syrian called Bashir spoke to the migrants' aspirations.

  • MAN:

    We hope they don't take this into effect. We hope that we can make it to Europe. I don't know if we get there. If we are lucky, we can move on. If we are not, I don't know what will happen to us.


    For two consecutive nights, the vigil of these volunteers on the beaches of southern Lesbos has been futile. They have spent long cold nights anticipating new arrivals, using the cover of darkness to avoid Turkish patrols.

    But no one has reached the shore. Spanish lifeguards, who've rescued thousands of people over the winter months have, for the moment, been made redundant by the ships of Frontex, Europe's border agency, patrolling the waters dividing Turkey from Greece.

    Yet volunteer Rebecca Michaelides believes the exodus from Turkey is just temporarily on hold.

  • REBECCA MICHAELIDES, British-Cypriot Volunteer:

    The people will keep on coming because they're very desperate in leaving Turkey and just trying for a better future. Being turned back for us and for myself is not really a solution to the problem.

    It's a lot deeper, and going back to as deep as the war in Syria that needs to be stopped, but also to the hardship of these people and what they're going through, that we need, as Europe, to be — to help them.


    The efforts to reinforce fortress Europe alarm Ahmad Ali, a dentist from a besieged Syrian city close to the Iraqi border. He asked us not to show his face, for fear of endangering relatives still in Syria.

  • AHMAD ALI, Refugee:

    We don't need to go back. Everybody here is worried about the situation, so we just — we need to cross the border to search for our lives. We can't stay here for a long time.


    Prime candidates to be among the first deported are Pakistanis, who are regarded by many countries as economic migrants. They have been turning up at a detention center in Lesbos to be registered. But in a possible blow to the E.U.-Turkey deal, the United Nations Refugee Agency said it wouldn't work in these camps because the migrants and refugees were being held against their will.

    A large group of Pakistanis were put in handcuffs as they were sent to mainland Greece for what could be the first leg of a journey back to their homeland. The prospect of being returned to Pakistan terrifies Imran Sharif, a Christian policeman who claims he faces possible death for alleged blasphemy against Islam.

  • IMRAN SHARIF, Refugee:

    If the Greece government puts me back in Pakistan, where there are many people waiting for me to kill me or put me in the jail — I don't like that somebody kills me in front of my child, so if they are trying to pull me back, I will suicide here.


    At the camp that's been sheltering the Pakistanis next to the detention center, volunteer Ayesha Keller had this advice for would-be travelers waiting on the Turkish coast.

  • AYESHA KELLER, Volunteer:

    At the moment, I don't think it's worth risking your life to cross over to Lesbos or one of the other Greek islands, because it's so unclear what the situation is. It just doesn't make sense on a humanitarian level. And I thought the E.U. was about protecting human rights, and now they have agreed to something like this.

    I understand what they're trying to do. I understand that they want to cut down smuggling and they want to cut down people crossing in a dangerous way. But this doesn't just seem to be a sensible solution. And it's just going to increase smuggling, as all the borders close. Rather than having a legal way to cross, people are going to go across illegally.


    One of the main reasons why Turkey has accepted this deal permitting the return of migrants is that it was promised that its application to join the European Union will be fast-tracked. But the terrorist attacks in Brussels today have damaged Turkey's cause.

    Skeptical governments are reluctant to accept Turkey because it would extend the European borders to Syria and Iraq, and would possibly increase the likelihood of terrorism within the E.U. And so this controversial arrangement could be undermined.

    These are hugely uncertain times for the migrants trapped in Greece and facing deportation.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Lesbos.

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