More migrants return to Turkey from Greece under EU pact

DIKILI, Turkey (Reuters) - Two ferries carrying more than 120 migrants returned to Turkey from the Greek island of Lesbos on Friday, in the second round of arrivals under an EU deal with Ankara to stem mass migration to Europe across the Aegean Sea.

The accord, which came into force on Monday, aims to help end a chaotic influx into the European Union of migrants and refugees, most fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond, after more than 1 million arrived last year.

Around 325 people have now been sent back from the Greek islands under the accord, which the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) has condemned and rights advocates say may violate international law.

They are to be sent to a camp near Turkey’s border with Bulgaria, to which the UNHCR said it had yet to gain access.

The first ferry on Friday carried a group of 44 Pakistani men, Turkey’s interior ministry said.

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Around two dozen uniformed Turkish police officers lined the boarding plank after it docked in the Turkish town of Dikili, accompanied by two coast guard vessels.

The second ferry, which arrived shortly after 12:30 p.m. (930 GMT), carried 79 people, including migrants from Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq, a Turkish official told Reuters.

There were no Syrians on either boat, the official said, and the second group appeared to be almost all men, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene.

No boats are expected over the weekend, Turkish officials said.

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Before the boat left Lesbos, at least two rights activists plunged into the water close by, dangling from the anchor chain and flashing the ‘V’ for victory sign in an attempt to prevent the vessel from sailing.

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They were plucked from the water by the Greek coastguard, while more activists stood at the gates of the port of Mytilene blowing whistles and banging on metal barriers.

From Dikili, the migrants were to be sent to the border town of Kirklareli. UNHCR spokeswoman Selin Unal said the agency was still negotiating for access to the camp there.

A first group of 202 migrants, most from Pakistan and Afghanistan, arrived in Turkey on Monday. Turkey’s parliament approved overnight an agreement enabling Ankara to repatriate Pakistani migrants.

Meanwhile, other migrants continued to reach the Greek islands.

Greek authorities said 149 had arrived in the past 24 hours on Lesbos, Samos and Chios, up from 76 the previous day.

Under the EU-Turkey agreement, Ankara will take back all migrants and refugees, including Syrians, who enter Greece through irregular routes.

In return, the EU will take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and reward Ankara with more money, early visa-free travel for its citizens and progress in negotiations to join the bloc.

Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker in Ankara and Orhan Coskun in Istanbul; Writing by Michele Kambas and Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan and John Stonestreet