ATHENS— On Wednesday, Greece returned 12 Syrians, including a woman and her four children, to Turkey as part of a European Union agreement with Turkey aiming to stop the flow of refugees and migrants across the Aegean to Europe’s more prosperous heartland.
The 12 were flown from the Greek island of Lesbos to Adana in Turkey by a plane chartered by the European border agency Frontex, Greece’s citizens’ protection ministry said, noting all had expressed the wish to return and none had applied for asylum in Greece.
Under last month’s EU-Turkey deal, people arriving clandestinely on Greek islands from Turkey from March 20 onward face being returned unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. So far, 386 people have been returned under the deal, Greece says.
Nearly 54,000 people are stranded in Greece after Europe closed its land borders to the migration flow last month. Greece said Wednesday it would construct a further four camps for them, in an effort to gradually clear an impromptu camp on the border with Macedonia.
Giorgos Kyritsis, spokesman for refugee and migration affairs, said the government hoped to be able to move at least 4,500 people into newly constructed and existing camps in the next 10 days, or more than a third of those currently camped out near the village of Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonian border.
Kyritsis said four areas outside the northern city of Thessaloniki have been identified for new camps: two former factories, a former logistics company and a former warehouse.
Meanwhile, Austrian police said Wednesday they are planning three freeway checkpoints at the Brenner crossing, the major transit point to Italy, in anticipation that migrants unable to enter from the Balkans will turn their attention to that route.
Another checkpoint will be located on the two-lane highway and a 370-meter (404-yard) fence is to be put up in the area to prevent attempts at unauthorized crossing.
Police also say that trains entering Austria at the Brenner will be stopped for controls.
Italy responded warily, with Premier Matteo Renzi saying that any move to close the Brenner Pass would be “blatantly against European rules.”
Austria fears that with the West Balkan route to migrants closed they will make their way to Italy and try to enter from there.
Construction of the fence and other facilities began earlier this month. Police did not give a completion date.
The speaker of Italy’s lower house, Laura Boldrini, said Austria’s moves are ill-considered, “because they divide.”