Middle East Eye –Greece has persuaded Turkey to accept migrant returns from the mainland in order to reduce critical overcrowding in its island refugee camps, a report said on Saturday.
The Kathimerini daily said the agreement came during a strained two-day state visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week.
The deal is in addition to Turkey’s existing agreement to take back migrants from Aegean island camps, under the terms of an EU-Turkey pact.
A Greek government source on Friday said Athens and Ankara had agreed “new measures of cooperation towards decongesting the islands, under the terms of the EU-Turkey pact.
No further details were given.
The pact sharply reduced the number of migrants trying to cross the Aegean Sea to reach Greek islands, although Ankara has repeatedly threatened to walk away from the deal, including over the failure to fulfil the pledge on visa-free travel.
Greece has found that the pace of migrant returns to Turkey fell dramatically after a state crackdown on civil servants that followed an attempted coup against Erdogan last year.
The slow pace of transfers – delayed by arduous background checks on asylum-seekers – has pushed Greek island camps to breaking point.
On the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros where there are over 15,000 refugees and migrants, camps are filled to triple their capacity, forcing many to sleep in tents.
Efforts to further expand the camps have run into strong local protests, the ministry adds.
More than 3,500 persons were transferred to the mainland between October and November, the migration ministry said.
Aid groups have warned that transferring refugees to heated accommodation before temperatures drop is a matter of life and death.