Turkey prepares for up to 500 migrants

2016-04-03 21:05
A migrant boy plays in a puddle at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni. (Vadim Ghirda, AP)

A migrant boy plays in a puddle at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni. (Vadim Ghirda, AP)

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Istanbul - Turkey has made preparations to take in up to 500 migrants from Greece on Monday under a plan agreed with the EU to reduce the flow of illegal migration, the Turkish interior minister said.

Local authorities say the first wave of migrants sent back from Greece will arrive in the resort town of Dikili, just opposite the Greek island of Lesbos which has become a major hub for migration to the European Union.

"We have prepared for 500 people to come on Monday. We are making our plans and putting in place our capacities," Interior Minister Efkan Ala was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency on Sunday.

"We have been in touch with the Greek authorities and said we could take 500 people and they have given us 400 names. Tomorrow it's possible that this figure could change," he added.

Under the scheme - which has been condemned by rights groups - Turkey will send one Syrian refugee to Europe in exchange for every Syrian it takes back from Greece.

The plan aims to halt the flow of illegal migration and break up the lucrative people-smuggling racket after around a million migrants, many of them Syrian refugees, crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey last year in search of a better life in the EU.

Ala said the numbers crossing had already fallen substantially in the last 10 days to just 300 people a day, and that since the start of 2016 Turkey had detained some 1 715 people-smugglers with 351 of them jailed.

Meanwhile some 65 000 illegal migrants had been caught and prevented from leaving Turkey since January 1, four and a half times more than in the same period last year, he said.

Ala indicated citizens of countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan sent back by Greece would be returned by Turkey to their home countries.

Syrians will be sent on to refugee camps or other areas within Turkey, he added.

Turkey has angrily denied claims by Amnesty International that it had been forcibly sending Syrians back home and that it was not a safe country for the return of the refugees.

'Migrants won't stay in Izmir'

Tents have been now put up by the harbourside in Dikili in anticipation of the migrants' arrival on Monday, according to Turkish media reports.

The migrants will be brought from Lesbos on two vessels, Anatolia said.

There had been reports of protests in Dikili on Saturday by locals worried over the effects of the new arrivals on the town, particularly its tourist industry.

But Mustafa Toprak, governor of Izmir region, said the migrants would only be staying briefly in Dikili and the resort of Cesme - a second reception point - before being moved on.

"Cesme and Dilkili are transfer points and in no way will this cause trouble to tourism or daily life," he told Anatolia news agency.

He said once Turkish authorities matched the migrants' fingerprints with those sent by the Greek authorities and carried out medical checks, they would be sent on to centres outside the region.

"There is no way they will be accommodated in Izmir or its districts," he added.

Read more on:    turkey  |  greece  |  migrants

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