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New EU Rules Kick In But For Migrants In Lesbos, Future Uncertain


And now to Europe, where we are beginning to see the flow of migrants reverse direction. The European Union has banned new asylum-seekers from entering the continent by sea from Turkey. That ban took effect this weekend. If you're a new arrival, the new rules mean you can be deported to Turkey. Joanna Kakissis is on the Greek island of Lesbos.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Like tens of thousands of Syrians before him, Rami Suleiman rode a crowded inflatable raft across a tiny but dangerous stretch of the Aegean Sea. He landed yesterday on a rocky beach on Lesbos with his wife and 2-month-old son. But they arrived to a changed Europe.

RAMI SULEIMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "The police gave me this," he says, pointing to a laminated paper wrapped around his left wrist. "They did not tell me anything. They told me to wait." The date on the wristband says March 20 - the date new EU rules went into effect. Suleiman and his young family now wait at a fenced-off migrant camp. They face deportation to Turkey.

SULEIMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "Turkey is not safe," he says. "The Turks could send us back to Syria." Michele Telaro of Doctors Without Borders says that there are many questions about the new rules.

MICHELE TELARO: The authorities here in the island - the police here and the representative of the ministry of immigration here - they also do not have, so far, a precise answer because it's something that is really changing very, very quick. And so it's not so clear how it's going to happen.

KAKISSIS: Asylum-seekers who arrived here before the deadline can either claim asylum in Greece or apply to be resettled in another EU country. Sayer al-Kanati of Damascus says he's happy to go anywhere.

SAYER AL-KANATI: Anywhere in Europe, I don't care. Anywhere - Germany, France, Greece, anywhere - I don't want to go back to Turkey or to Syria.

KAKISSIS: The gray-haired taxi driver is waiting to board a giant passenger ferry with three of his six kids. It's headed to the mainland. Then they go to migrant camps to wait until their asylum requests are processed. Police told al-Kanati and others to board the ferry or...

AL-KANATI: They will take them back to Turkey or to Syria. I'm afraid.

KAKISSIS: Everyone is afraid, says Sami Tartar - a British-Algerian volunteering on Lesbos.

SAMI TARTAR: They don't know where they're going to, what's going to happen to them, what's going to happen to their families. It's - it's a disaster.

KAKISSIS: Shant Chalemiyan seems calmer than other refugees here. The young Iraqi says his family applied for a European Union program that will relocate refugees to various EU member states. As Christians, they will likely be accepted.

SHANT CHALEMIYAN: Europeans don't bother the Christians. No, they are with the Christians because the Christian - they don't have a place in Iraq.

KAKISSIS: Back at the port, a ferry with hundreds of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans pulls away. They wave to volunteers from the deck. They are cheering and weeping. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis on Lesbos. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.
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