ATHENS, Aug. 6 (Xinhua) -- A total of 134 Iraqis migrants departed from Athens' airport to Iraq on Thursday, which marked the first-ever voluntary repatriation program for a large group of migrants in Greece and in Europe, Greek authorities said.
"We work systematically to put an end to the migration crisis by implementing a strict but fair policy. It is important that the program of voluntary returns was launched. Migrants return to their country of origin with dignity and security," Greek Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi said.
The Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) program plans to cover up to 5,000 migrants located in reception and identification centers on the Greek islands.
The program is co-funded 75 percent by European Funds (Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund) and 25 percent by national funds.
More than one million people reached Greece and continued the trip to other European countries until the closure of the borders along the Balkan Route and the launch of the March 2016 agreement between EU-Turkey aimed to curb the influx.
Over 40,000 people are currently hosted in overflowing reception centers on Greek islands, out of a total of 100,000 stranded in Greece, according to figures from the Greek authorities.
"Greece is satisfied as the program helps to decongest the islands. The migrants who return to their home country feel happy as they start a new life with dignity. Their country of origin, Iraq, knows that these people can now support local societies and economies," Greek Alternate Migration and Asylum Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos said.
Greece's program for the voluntary return of migrants to their country of origin was supposed to initiate last spring but was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the plan, the 5,000 migrants will each receive an allowance of 2,000 euros (2,375 U.S dollars).
"I am happy to go back to my country. I wanted to return to my wife and my children," Salad Ahmad said to local reporters at the airport before the departure of his flight.
The Ambassador of Iraq to Greece Shorsh Khalid Said explained that last year approximately 4,000 Iraqis returned to their country as the safety conditions have improved.