ISTANBUL: Turkey has prepared 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.
Turkish media reports have said the first wave of migrants sent back by Greece are set to arrive in the Turkish resort town of Dikili which lies just opposite the Greek island of Lesbos, a major hub for migration to the EU.
“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 one 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 one million migrants crossed the Aegean Sea in 2015 from Turkey in search of a better life in the EU.
Ala argued that the numbers crossing had already fallen substantially in the last 10 days to just 300 people a day.
He said that since the start of 2016 alone, Turkey had detained some 1,715 people smugglers and 351 of them had been jailed.
Meanwhile some 65,000 illegal migrants had been caught and prevented from leaving Turkey since Jan. 1, four and a half times more than in the same period last year, he said.
Ala indicated that 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.
Ala said Turkey was now home to 2.75 million Syrian refugees and had spent $10 billion (8.8 billion euros) on looking after them. Just a quarter of a million of these Syrians live in refugee camps and the rest in towns and cities. AFP