Greek MPs adopt law allowing migrants' return to Turkey

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Athens (AFP)

Greece's parliament on Friday adopted a law allowing for migrants who reach the Greek islands to be returned to Turkey under a controversial EU deal to stem the numbers entering the bloc.

"The law was adopted by a majority of 169 of the 276 MPs present," said Tassos Kourakis, who presided over the session.

Those voting in favour included members of the ruling majority which includes the far-left Syriza and the small nationalist Independent Greeks party (ANEL) as well as members of both opposition parties: the socialist Pasok and the centrist To Potami.

The main opposition New Democracy party voted against the law but in favour of the arrangements under the EU-Turkey agreement, while the KKE communist party and members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn voted against.

The law was rushed through just days before the first batch of migrants was to be returned to Turkey following a deal between Brussels and Ankara that was signed on March 18.

Under the EU agreement, all economic migrants landing on the Greek islands after March 20 face being sent back to Turkey.

And for every Syrian refugee sent back, another Syrian refugee will be resettled from Turkey to the EU, with the numbers capped at 72,000.

The idea is to reduce the incentive for Syrian refugees to board dangerous smugglers' boats to Europe, as they will have good hope of being resettled directly from refugee camps.

"Preparations are now well under way to ensure the return of persons whose asylum claims have been declared unadmissible, and those who have not claimed protection can start," European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters.

The aim of the law is to introduce an EU directive which allows, under certain conditions, the return of migrants to a third country -- in this case Turkey -- as stipulated in the EU-Ankara agreement.

It also seeks to reinforce asylum services in Greece, which is struggling to cope with around 52,000 newcomers who have been stranded there since the Balkans states shut off the migrant route to northern Europe in February.

Following criticism of the deal by the UN and rights groups including Amnesty International, Greek Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas said text included measures to ensure a two-week turnaround in asylum claims and which would ensure respect for the Geneva Convention on the protection of refugees.