Greece to send 10,000 migrants back to Turkey

Greece on Monday vowed to curb overcrowding in its Aegean island refugee camps and send 10,000 migrants back to Turkey by the end of next year, after a deadly fire underscored the country’s growing crisis, according to multiple reports. 

The fire on Sunday at Lesbos’ Moria camp, which hosts some 10,000 people more than its stated capacity of 3,000, killed one woman and injured 17 others, destroyed container homes and sparked rioting, according to Agence France-Presse. 

After a four-hour emergency cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s new government promised to speed up asylum decisions, move more asylum-seekers to the Greek mainland and vastly increase the number of returns to Turkey, the Wall Street Journal reported. 

Athens aims to return 10,000 migrants to Turkey by the end of 2020, increasing the rate of 1,800 returned in the previous four-and-a-half years, according to a government statement.

More than 12,000 people arrived in Greece in September alone, and overcrowding and tensions have become an increasing problem on the islands as 29,000 refugees and migrants are living in camps designed for about one-third that many people, said the Journal. 

Boris Cheshirkov, the UN refugee agency’s (UNHCR) spokesman in Greece, described the situation at the Aegean island camps as critical, according to AFP.

“This is by far the worst period we’ve been experiencing since the EU-Turkey deal was struck,” Deputy Minister of Citizen Protection Lefteris Economou told reporters on Monday, referring to the 2016 agreement to stem the refugee crisis. 

The interior ministers of France and Germany are due to visit Greece and Turkey this week with EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, Associated Press reported, adding that a spokesman for the German government said it backed Greek efforts to increase migrant deportations to Turkey.