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Shaky countdown to EU-Turkey migrant swap

Some 750 migrants are to be shipped from Greece back to Turkey on Monday at the start of the EU-Turkey relocation deal, says the Greek state news agency ANA. One of two Turkish reception sites is still a barren field.

Two Turkish leisure boats had been chartered for Monday and migrants would be escorted on them one-by-one by EU Frontex police from the Greek island of Lesbos, ANA reported Saturday.

Residents of the western coastal Turkish town of Dikili, where one of the scheme's migrant reception camps is to be located, protested in their hundreds on Saturday.

An eyewitness in Dikili quoted by the German news agency DPA said the Dikili site was still an empty field. Mayor Mustafa Tosun said residents "definitely don't want a refugee camp."

The Turkish newspaper "Milliyet" said the first registrations Monday would take place in a Dikili sports center.

At a second reception site, Cesme, a Turkish resort opposite Greece's Chios island, Mayor Muhittin Dalgic told the Anatolia news agency that water pipes and electricity cables were being laid.

Athens coy on details

Officials in Athens were otherwise tight-lipped on transfers stemming from last month's EU-Turkey summit but condemned as unethical by the UN refugee agency and asylum aid groups.

"Planning is in progress," said Yiorgos Kyritsis, spokesman for Greece's refugee coordination unit, referring to approval of the deal by Greece's parliament on Friday.

Frontex Chef Fabrice Leggeri

Frontex' chief Fabrice Leggeri's staff will escort migrants

"If they make me go back to Turkey, I'll throw myself and my family into the sea," said Mustafa, a Syrian waiting with his wife and children on Chios. "We went from hell to hell," he said.

Four hundred Frontex police officers were to arrive in Greece this weekend, said the news agency Agence France-Presse quoting a Greek government source.

Parallel transfers into EU

From Monday, in a parallel process, Turkey is to begin sending registered Syrian refugees to EU nations - one for every migrant sent back from Greece. Distributions among EU nations are to be capped at 72,000.

Germany's Interior Ministry has said first arrivals in Germany from Monday will be families with children. The Netherlands has said it's also expecting its first arrivals.

In 2015, Germany let in a record 1.1 million migrants. About 40 percent were Syrians fleeing their country's brutal civil war.

Hundreds still risking boat crossings

Daily, hundreds of migrants, mainly from Middle East conflict regions, continue to land on Greek islands, apparently undeterred by the EU-Turkish plan and risky Aegean waters.

Greek migration authorities said 566 had reached Greek islands in the 24 hours up until Saturday morning. On Friday, 339 had arrived, and 377 on Thursday.

That was despite Turkish intervention. The coast guard in Turkey's Izmir province said 63 people, described as Syrians and Palestinians, had been caught in the Aegean Sea and were brought to Dikili.

Under the EU-Turkey deal, migrants who arrived "illegally" in Greece from Turkey are to be turned back - unless they apply for asylum and that claim is accepted.

In exchange, Turkey is to get billions in migrant-related financial aid, visa-free travel in the EU for Turks and a renewal of complicated talks on potential EU accession.

52,000 remain in Greece

Over 52,000 migrants hoping to claim asylum in northern Europe remain in Greece after Balkan states, led by Austria, sealed their borders.

On Friday, hundreds of migrants walked out of a registration center on the Greek island of Chios after several brawls. The medical charity Doctors of the World (MDM), whose dispensary was damaged, said it had pulled out to protect its staff.

Near Idomeni, on Greece's border with the ex-Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, more than 200 migrants staged a protest on Saturday on a highway, demanding that Macedonia open its border.

About 11,000 people remain in the Idomeni area despite last month's shutting down of the "Balkans route."

Flüchtlinge in Italien auf dem Weg nach Österreich Brenner Pass

Last year, migrants used Austria's Brenner Pass

Several dozen Idomeni residents staged their own protest, demanding that the Greek government relocate the migrants to transit centers elsewhere in Greece, according to The Associated Press news agency.

Austria focused on Brenner

Anticipating a shift in migrant flows away from the Turkey-Greece route to the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy, Austria says it will deploy soldiers at the Brenner Pass, a key transport route through the European Alps.

Austrian defense minister Hans Peter Dozkozil told the German newspaper "Die Welt" that Austria's military would provide "considerable support" at the Brenner.

ipj/ng (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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