By Thomas Escritt
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Senior Dutch government officials are discussing a plan to ferry refugees arriving in Greece back to Turkey to stem the flow of migrants seeking refuge in Europe, Labour Party leader Diederik Samsom said on Thursday.
Samsom said in an interview with the daily Volkskrant that European countries would have to agree in exchange to take several hundred thousand refugees each year out nearly 2 million currently in Turkey.
He also told Reuters that the plan was close to becoming government policy and that the Netherlands, which currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency, would seek to push for Europe-wide agreement on the proposal.
While Samsom has no formal government job as leader of the junior of the two Dutch coalition parties, he said he had discussed the proposal with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and with Sigmar Gabriel, the German Social Democrat vice-chancellor.
The stream of migrants fleeing war and persecution in the Middle East and North Africa has placed the European Union under strain and fueled right-wing nationalist rhetoric throughout the continent.
Samsom said improving conditions for Syrian refugees in Turkey meant it could soon be regarded as a safe country to which asylum-seekers could be returned.
Rutte said at the launch of the Dutch presidency that the stream of refugees arriving in Europe would have to come down within six to eight weeks.
"Every night now people drown because they get into a dinghy with too many people in rough weather and people drown - 24 last night, 26 the night before," Samsom said.
His plan would stop the flow by making the journey pointless and giving several hundred thousand refugees a year a legal route out of Turkey into the EU, he said.
"You cannot convince Turkey to readmit these people if you don't relieve their refugee burden," he said.
He said the West European countries most affected would have to agree individually to take refugees if no overarching EU agreement could be reached.
"The countries most affected - Austria, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands - might take the lead in making this happen," he said. "We saw that the Europe-wide relocation scheme got nowhere if obstructed by the Czechs, Poland, Romania."
A Dutch government spokesman said: "The Netherlands is working hard to reach a common solution. Therefore the influx must be stemmed and resettlement within Europe must improve."