Turkey won't take back migrants already on Greek islands: minister

Migrants wait at the side of the road after being detained by Turkish soldiers as they try to reach the Greek island of Lesbos from Dikili, western Turkey, on March 5, 2016 (AFP)

Turkey will not take back migrants already on Greek islands under a deal proposed to European Union leaders at a crunch summit this week, Ankara’s EU affairs minister said Thursday.

Volkan Bozkir was quoted by the Anatolia news agency as saying Turkey would take back “tens of thousands” of migrants, “not hundreds of thousands or millions”, and they would “not include the existing refugees on the Greek islands”.

At talks in Brussels this week, Turkey surprised EU leaders by presenting a set of proposals to help solve the migrant crisis -- the continent’s worst since World War II.

Under Monday’s tentative deal, Ankara offered to take back all illegal migrants landing in Greece and to set up an arrangement to exchange Syrians in Greece for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

But the deal still has to be confirmed by another summit next week and has already come under fire from the UN refugee chief and rights groups, who questioned whether it was legal, and even some EU members.

Bozkir said the offer did not include migrants already on the Greek islands and sounded a note of caution about how many people Turkey, which already hosts 2.7 million Syrian refugees, would take back.

“It would be more accurate to say the number of migrants to be returned to Turkey in the event of a readmission agreement with the EU will be thousands or tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands or millions,” he told Anatolia.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 13:57 - GMT 10:57