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Turks Look On As First Migrant Returnees Arrive From Greece

  • Daniella Cheslow

A migrant is escorted by a Turkish police officer walking past a banner reading: "Migration directorate of the Izmir Governor" as they arrive by ferry from the Greek island of Lesbos at the Dikili harbor in Izmir on April 4.

A migrant is escorted by a Turkish police officer walking past a banner reading: "Migration directorate of the Izmir Governor" as they arrive by ferry from the Greek island of Lesbos at the Dikili harbor in Izmir on April 4.

DIKILI, Turkey -- Residents watched uneasily from the shore of this seaside resort town in western Turkey as the first migrants were returned from Greece under a newly implemented plan to cope with Europe's refugee crisis.

"I wanted to spend my last few years in life in peace here," said Zuleyha Ozkan, 67, a housewife who moved to Dikili four years ago from a nearby mining town. "However, these people are coming here and it's going to be a huge problem for us."

Signs left over from an April 2 demonstration and plastered on the walls of a building near the port read, "We don't want a refugee camp in Dikili!"

The migrants arrived in this town of 40,000 in Turkey on April 4 as the first step in the deal hammered out between the European Union and Ankara in mid-March. Under the terms of the agreement, Turkey will accept migrants who do not qualify for asylum in Europe. The EU will accept one Syrian with a legitimate asylum claim for each of the migrants it deports to Turkey.

Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala, meanwhile, said that Turkey had offered to accept 500 migrants in the first round of returns. He said Greece had provided 400 names. Some 200 migrants arrived on three vessels on April 4.

The first of three boats carrying returned migrants docks in Dikili on April 4.

The first of three boats carrying returned migrants docks in Dikili on April 4.

The first boat, a blue-and-white commercial ferry called the Nazli Jale, pulled in mid-morning at the pier in Dikili flanked by a Turkish coast-guard ship. Police, medics, and municipality workers fanned out across the concrete pier. White tarps were strung up to block the ferry deck from the press. Migrants carrying backpacks and gray blankets stepped off the boat and were escorted by police to registration tents on the docks.

Retired coal miner Kazim Tasmis, 70, sat on a rocky ledge within view of the pier and watched the migrants walk off the ferry. "I'm here to witness the return and share their grief," he said. Still, he acknowledged, Dikili "already has a lot of infrastructure problems."

"If [the migrants] are to stay here, even if the infrastructure was improved, it wouldn't be enough," Tasmis said. "In summertime, the population rises up to 150,000 and we cannot handle that burden."

Dikili has been directly touched by the international refugee drama. Smugglers have used its shores as a launch position for inflatable boats bound for Europe. On March 31, Turkish police apprehended some 60 Syrian migrants who were attempting to cross to Europe. They were briefly detained in a sports hall in Dikili before being transported elsewhere in Turkey.

Mayor Mustafa Tosun said he had negotiated with the government and avoided hosting the migrants arriving on April 4; instead, police buses took them to Kirklareli, near the northern Turkish border with Greece. "There is nothing to be concerned about for the time being," he told RFE/RL.

German activists show a banner during the arrival of a small Turkish ferry carrying migrants in Dikili on April 4.

German activists show a banner during the arrival of a small Turkish ferry carrying migrants in Dikili on April 4.

Local photographer Utku Caglar Icten, 33, walked with his mother along the seafront. "These refugees will badly affect tourism in this area," he said. "Some terrorists are among [the migrants]. As a resident of Dikili, I am afraid and I don't like refugees being among crowds of people. Something might go wrong."

Sevim Kiziltas, 35, said she felt sorry for the people she saw. She walked a path outside a portside fish restaurant with her nephew. "When these people are brought here on these boats,... they have nothing," Kiziltas said. "I moved here from Istanbul and I don't have a job. But they are in a much worse situation. I cannot get angry with them."

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