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World

Turkey-EU Rules Mean More Hurdles In Migrant Journey

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The route to Europe is about to get more difficult for refugees and migrants heading to Sweden or elsewhere. Starting tomorrow, a new deal between the European Union and Turkey takes effect, which will shut down the main migrant route into Europe, which is through Greece.

More than 1 million people have fled conflict in places like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and the Horn of Africa. As of Monday, some refugees stuck in Greece can be expelled to Turkey. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in the Turkish port city of Izmir on the Aegean Sea. Peter, you've been reporting this story for months now. And you were in Izmir last fall. So what are you seeing? How does the situation there compare between now and then?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, it's a dramatic change, Rachel. Last fall, we saw Syrians, Iraqis, others just milling around in public, at the bus stations, getting tickets to the coast, buying life jackets for the kids, waiting for their smuggler's call to go on to Greece and Germany or another country.

Now the crossings are way down. In those days, it was thousands a day. Now it's hundreds at most. The Turkish coast guard stopped nearly 200 just yesterday.

So everything, as a result, is much more undercover. There's an atmosphere of fear and caution for those few still trying to make the crossings. They can't get on the bus anymore unless they have special permission. There's police checkpoints. And Turks who know smugglers are telling us that the word on the street now is, look, don't go. It's a bad time.

MARTIN: So it sounds like these new rules are serving as some kind of deterrent, although you've been talking to Syrians and Afghans there who are still intent on going - on making this journey. Where are they saying?

KENYON: Well, it's interesting. We're hearing a few still intent, but also some saying OK, maybe not. The first migrants, as you said, could be sent back to Turkey here under this new deal as early as tomorrow. And the prospects for those who might be sent back or who haven't made it yet are equally gloomy.

One Afghan I met gave his name Massoud (ph) - didn't want to use his last name - he used to work for the U.S. military in Kabul. He says he's worried about retaliation. But he talked about a very difficult journey - Kabul to Pakistan to Iran to Turkey, getting pushed back every step of the way. They failed three times to cross the Aegean. And now he says that's it - no more for him. Here's how Massoud put it.

MASSOUD: No, I don't want to try. I called somebody in Greece. They said situation is very bad. Stay in Turkey. I saw somebody that still was trying to go to Greece. I told them they are sending back them. They said they cannot send them back.

KENYON: But for you, that's enough.

MASSOUD: Yeah. For me, it's enough. I lost all my money. Now I'm zero.

KENYON: The problem is here in Turkey, there's just no work to be had. And if thousands of more people are about to descend on the country, the prospects are going to get even worse.

MARTIN: The new deal between Turkey and the EU, as we've said, is supposed to come into effect tomorrow. How's the government preparing, Peter? What are their concerns about how they're going to put this into place?

KENYON: Well, they say they can do it just fine. But there's no sign that they're ready to accommodate thousands more people. Up in Dikili to the north where we were this weekend, there's just an empty field where reception centers should be. There are protests both in Dikili and over in Greece of the not-in-my-backyard variety. So pressure is growing. And once again, the migrants are caught in the middle.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Izmir, Turkey. Thanks so much, Peter.

KENYON: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.