In a bid to reduce overcrowding at migrant reception centers on the Aegean islands, the government is to propose to Turkey that asylum seekers who are not high on the list of eligibility for protection be transferred to camps on the mainland and subsequently to Turkey, Kathimerini understands.
“We are asking that we be allowed to conduct returns either directly from the islands or from the mainland in the context of the EU-Turkey joint statement,” a government official told Kathimerini, referring to a deal between Brussels and Ankara signed in March 2016 aimed at curbing migrant smuggling across the Aegean.
According to sources, Turkish government officials have indicated that Ankara will respond to Greece’s request in the first half of January.
During a landmark visit to Greece last month, the first by a Turkish head of state in 65 years, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to cooperate more closely in tackling the refugee crisis. According to sources, Erdogan accepted Tsipras’s request that Turkey take back migrants from the Greek mainland as well as the islands. It remains unclear, however, whether officials in Brussels approve of the deal.
Tsipras’s government is keen to ease pressure on reception centers by jumpstarting the return of migrants to Turkey, a process that has largely halted as new arrivals often lodge applications for asylum.
By ensuring that those being returned are not refugees from war zones such as Syria, authorities believe they will overcome the objections of some within leftist SYRIZA who have taken a tough stance against returns to Turkey.