VIENNA (Reuters) - Turkey has begun taking back Syrians from Greece under an agreement with the European Union aimed at stemming the flow of migrants into the continent, and it expects the number of Syrians returning to rise soon, it said on Wednesday.
Two Syrians were brought back to Turkey in the two first rounds of returns by ferry carried out under the deal, which took effect last week, Turkey's European Union Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkir told Reuters.
The reason Turkey had not taken back more Syrians was that it granted Syrians a protected status but not as refugees; they lost that status if they left the country and came back, Bozkir said, adding that those rules had just been changed.
"We issued a government decree which gives this status back again even if they come back," he said on the sidelines of a talk at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna.
"So now in the second wave and third wave you (will) have more Syrians than Pakistanis and Afghanis," he said, referring to nationalities that were among the most common in the two rounds of returns last week, of about 340 people.
Turkey's cabinet approved the change last week, and it took effect on Thursday.
"We now have new lists from Greece where they are checking everybody and fingerprints are being sent to us, and then we’ll get Syrians now as well," he told Reuters.
The number of people making the perilous crossing of the Aegean Sea to Greek islands from Turkey had fallen dramatically in recent months, he said during a question-and-answer session with academics and students.
"(In) October every day 5,000, 6,000 irregular migrants were reaching Greece," he said. "The latest figure is 75, 11th of April, zero, 10th of April, 59, 9th of April, so we went back to two digits and even those will be back and we'll reach zero."
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; editing by Ralph Boulton)