Turkish prime minister says lower number of refugees reaching Greece demonstrates EU-Turkey refugee deal works well
A drop in the numbers of illegal migrants arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey shows that a deal struck between the European Union and Turkey to try to stem the flow is working, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday.
Speaking during an official visit to Finland, Davutoglu said the number of illegal migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey had fallen to 350 in the last two days.
Davutoglu has also praised his host country Finland's humanitarian efforts concerning the refugees, indicating that both countries have similar views on the Syrian conflict and refugee crisis.
A deal between the European Union and Turkey appeared to show tentative signs of slowing the flow of refugees and migrants to the Greek islands on Wednesday, but many were still trying to cross the sea and the route remained far from sealed off.
Three days after the EU-Turkey deal came into force, new arrivals on the Greek islands from Turkey dropped to 68 in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning from 225 the previous day, data from the Greek Migration Ministry showed.
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has also indicated that the EU-Turkey deal began to bring results with the slowing of the refugee flow to Greece.
"It is a good start," he declared.
The numbers fluctuate daily and it was unclear if the decline was a direct result of the accord, under which migrants and refugees who use irregular sea crossings in the Aegean to get into Greece are being sent back to Turkey.
"We had a very low influx from the other side of the Aegean ... which we consider positive," said Greek government spokesman George Kyritsis.
Since the deal was implemented on Monday, 202 people, the majority from Pakistan, have been returned from Greece. Greek and Turkish officials have said that more could be sent back this week.
However, Greece has postponed the return of the next group of refugees and migrants to Turkey until Friday, a Turkish government official said on Tuesday, with no other deportees expected before then.
But despite the returns, and tighter security along Turkey's coast, migrants were still trying to make the crossing.
Turkey and EU leaders approved a deal in March intended on halting the flow of refugees into Europe, promising visa liberation for Turkish citizens, progress in the country's EU membership negotiations, and supplemeting the billions of dollars that Turkey has already spent hosting the refugees.
"This arrangement will prevent the Aegean Sea being turned into a cemetery for migrants," Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said of the deal in Turkey's parliament.
Non-Syrians returned from Greece are being taken to a "reception and removal" centre in the Turkish town of Kirklareli near the Bulgarian border, from where they are expected to be deported to their home countries.
Returned Syrians are expected to be taken initially to a camp in the southern town of Osmaniye, from where those who have the means will be allowed to settle elsewhere in Turkey among an existing Syrian migrant population of 2.8 million, Turkish officials have said.