Greece set to send 10,000 refugees back to Turkey

The government said that Athens wants to return 10,000 migrants to Turkey by the end of 2020.

Greece said it wanted to start sending back 10,000 migrants to Turkey, after a deadly fire followed by protests at an overcrowded camp on the island of Lesbos.

The decision, taken at an emergency Cabinet meeting, came as officials in Greece and abroad called for action to ease the pressure on the crowded migrant camps spread across the Aegean islands.

In a statement the government said that Athens wants to return 10,000 migrants to Turkey by the end of 2020. That would increase the rate from the "1,805 returned in the 4.5 years under the previous Syriza government", added the statement.

The conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has already announced more naval patrols in the Aegean, closed centers for migrants refused asylum, and plans to overhaul the asylum system, the statement added.

Greek officials also confirmed the death of a woman in Sunday’s blaze at Moria, Europe’s largest migrant camp, which has facilities for 3,000 people but houses around 13,000.

Greek media reported that a burnt blanket possibly containing the charred remains of a baby had been found next to the woman.

Another 17 injured migrants, including two children, were transferred to a hospital on the island at Mytilene on Monday, according to the health ministry.

Boris Cheshirkov, the U.N. refugee agency’s (UNHCR) spokesman in Greece, called for better conditions at Moria and faster transfers of migrants off the island, describing the situation as "critical".

Lesbos Mayor Stratos Kytelis also called for the pressure on the islands to be eased.

However, aid agency Oxfam argued that Sunday’s fatal fire was a consequence of the EU’s migration policy.

"People arriving in Greece should be relocated to safe accommodation across the EU, not crammed into dangerous spaces where their life is at risk," said Renata Rendon, Oxfam’s head of mission in Greece.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos is to visit Greece and Turkey this week with the interior ministers of Germany and France to discuss the crisis.

The Moria camp has become like a small town, with U.N. refugee agency tents for around 8,000 people sprawling into the olive fields of the nearby village. Others are housed in containers.

Greece hosts some 70,000 mostly Syrian refugees and migrants who have fled their homes since 2015, crossing over from neighboring Turkey.

Around 10,000 people had landed on Lesbos in the past three months alone, said the Greek government.