Key details are still to be worked out on how migrants newly arriving in Greece from Turkey will be processed and returned.
The rallies ended peacefully. Protests were also held in other parts of Greece, including Thessaloniki in northern Greece and on the island of Lesbos. And several thousand people gathered in Spain’s northeastern port city of Barcelona to protest against what they called Europe’s “racist and uncaring” approach to migrants.
Greece is expecting some 2,300 European experts, including migration officers and translators, to help implement the deal.
“Obviously, none of those people have arrived yet,” a government official told the AP, asking not be identified pending official announcements. “What we have at the moment is a political decision. This must now be put into practice.”
Migrants on Lesbos and other islands in the east Aegean Sea were being taken by ferry to the mainland ports of Piraeus and Kavala where they will be placed in shelters and eligible for an EU-wide relocation program.
“Migrants on the islands will be moved to mainland shelters, including 2,500 people on Lesbos who are being transported to three different shelter locations,” the government officials said.
From Sunday onward, migrants who arrive on the islands will be screened and their identity recorded before being sent back to Turkey.
Germany’s interior minister said the Balkan route that migrants have been using to reach Central Europe is “finished” now that Turkey has agreed to take back people who arrive in Greece illegally.
In a statement Saturday, Thomas de Maiziere described the deal between the European Union and Turkey as a “turning point in the refugee crisis.”
De Maiziere said Germany will send border police and immigration staff to help Greece process any new arrivals.
His ministry said the number of migrants reaching Germany each day is now down to about 100 a day, a sharp decrease from the thousands who were arriving in the country daily last year.
De Maiziere, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats, said “alternative flight routes must be prevented.”
At the Greek-Macedonian border Saturday, no new arrivals were reported by relief agencies at a giant makeshift camp near the border village of Idomeni.
Migrants took advantage of a break in bad weather to wash clothes and seek information on the EU-Turkey deal — responding with a mixture of relief and disappointment, with Balkan borders to remain closed but with most migrants already on Greek territory made exempt from plans for swift deportation.
Mohamed Tamer spent three weeks camped out at Idomeni, hoping to travel onto Berlin where his sister lives.
On Saturday, he decided it was time to leave.
“I will try and apply with the EU relocation service,” he told the AP before boarding a bus for Athens. “The decision made in Brussels is not clear. What will happen to us? No one cares,” he said.
“(EU leaders) should have come here and spent one night in Idomeni before making up their minds.”
Kantouris reported from Idomeni, northern Greece. Demetris Nellas in Athens and Menelaos Hadjicostis in Brussels contributed.