Turkey races to set up centres for migrants turned back under EU deal
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Turkish authorities on Saturday hastened its setting up of reception centres to process Syrian and other migrants two days ahead of the implementation of a hugely controversial deal with the EU for them to be sent back from Greece to Turkish soil.
Turkey is due to start receiving migrants who crossed the Aegean Sea for EU member Greece from Monday but so far details have been vague over how the transfer will be implemented.
Work has now started on a centre in the major Aegean tourist resort of Cesme in Izmir province, which faces the Greek island of Chios that has been a major target for migrants, the town's mayor said Saturday.
Local officials in Dikili, also in Izmir province on the Aegean and facing the Greek island of Lesbos, have said a readmission centre is being established in the region for migrants being sent back from Greece.
Water pipes and electricity cables are being laid for the 500 square-metre area by the Ulusoy harbour in Cesme, mayor Muhittin Dalgic was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.
The centre will have tents for finger-printing migrants, registering them as well as sanitation facilities, he said.
But Turkish officials said such centres were not refugee camps but processing points from which the migrants will be sent elsewhere as soon as possible.
"Once the health checks and registration is done for the migrants, they will be sent on to camps," Dalgic was quoted as saying.
"We intend to complete this work with them staying for as short a time as possible," he added.
There have been fears in Turkey's fashionable Aegean resorts that a sudden influx of migrants could prompt a backlash from locals and put off tourists.
'750 migrants in initial transfer'
It remains to be seen how the initial transfers will proceed. Pictures broadcast by NTV television Friday showed only a barren space at the site of the proposed Dikili centre.
The Milliyet daily carried a report Saturday saying that as the Dikili centre was not finished, the first registrations from Monday would take part in indoor sports arenas in the town.
Greek news agency ANA meanwhile reported that some 750 migrants will be sent from Lesbos to Dikili between Monday and Wednesday on board two Turkish vessels chartered by EU border guards agency Frontex.
Turkish media reports meanwhile have said the Turkish Red Crescent is preparing to open a new refugee camp with capacity for 5,000 people further inland in Manisa in western Turkey -- its first outside the south and east of the country -- to accommodate the new influx.
Turkish and EU leaders in March agreed the deal for curbing the influx of migrants that has plunged Europe into its biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.
Turkey, which is hosting some 2.7 million Syrian refugees, will allow one Syrian to migrate to Europe in exchange for every one it takes back.
Germany said Friday it will take in the first Syrian refugees and interior ministry spokesman Tobias Plate said that most of the arrivals expected Monday would be families with children.
The deal was approved by the Greek parliament in a vote Friday.
But the terms of the deal have sparked fierce debate, with Amnesty International saying Friday that Turkey could no longer be trusted as a "safe country" for refugees.
It accused Turkey of returning Syrian refugees to Syria against their will and said the deal with the EU had "fatal flaws".
Turkey has always vehemently denied that any Syrian is forced to go home and insists its "open door" policy remains in place.
EU leaders are under pressure from voters at home to halt the flow of migrants into Europe after around one million crossed last year.
According to the International Organization for Migration, 151,104 migrants crossed the Aegean from Turkey to Greece this year alone and 366 drowned during the perilous trip.